Professor Mark Sims

Professor in Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation

BSc (Hons), PhD (Leicester)

Tel: 0116 252 3513


Office: Room 107, Space Research Centre, Michael Atiyah Building

Office hours: Visitors and students should e-mail to arrange meetings


Professor Sims obtained his PhD from the University of Leicester, working on x-ray astronomy shadow cameras. He was an European Space Agency Research Fellow based at ESTEC, Noordwijk, the Netherlands working on high energy x-ray astronomy detectors from May 1981 to January 1984. He returned to Leicester in February 1984 to work as assembly integration and test manager on the German-USA-UK X-ray and XUV ROSAT mission of which he became mission manager for the first year of operations post its launch in June 1990. He then became Leicester project manager for the JET-X ray telescope for the Russian Spectrum-RG mission until the project was cancelled in 1999.

From July 1997 until September 2004 he was mission manager for the Beagle 2 Mars lander project (part of ESA’s Mars Express mission) responsible for project study management until 1999 and instrumentation and mission operations thereafter. He led the internal inquiry into Beagle 2 following its failure to communicate following landing and its release from Mars Express. From 2003 until 2013 he was principal investigator of the Life Marker Chip (LMC) life detection instrument based upon immuno-assay techniques on ExoMars until mission constraints forced removal of two instruments including the LMC from the mission. He continues to develop ideas for Life detection on Mars and elsewhere. Professor Sims chaired the STFC Aurora (Space Exploration) Advisory Committee from 2005 to 2009 and is currently a member of the National Space Technology Steering Group (NSTSG)  and a member of the UK Space Agency’s Space Technology Advisory Committee (STAC). He was heavily involved in the Innovation and Growth Strategy for Space (IGS) and helped prepare its recommendations released to government in February 2010. Professor Sims has been involved in 9 space missions over his career with roles from data analysis, through launch site operations to flight operations and acting as Principal Investigator on the LMC project. He is co-director of the Diagnostics Development Unit based at the Leicester Royal Infirmary which is developing techniques for non-invasive diagnosis of disease currently as a screening tool in Accident and Emergency and Acute Care.

Research interests

My research interests include astrobiology and planetary science and novel uses of instrumentation and technology to address science problems. Research activities include space instrumentation development, astrobiology on Mars and icy moons and using advanced instrumentation for diagnosis in medicine. I led the Life Marker Chip instrument proposed for ExoMars which used immuno-assay techniques for detection of key biomarkers. This work is continuing via proposals for future missions and terrestrial application work, see below.  I am co-director of the Diagnostics Development Unit (DDU, see ) where my research interests are in imaging technologies in particular spectral reflectance techniques in the visible and near infra-red looking at body pigments including haemoglobin and thermal infra-red imaging to measure temperature abnormalities and patterns. The DDU work also involves design and development of clinical aids for diagnosis and patient monitoring. I am also investigating application of Life Marker Chip and related technologies to terrestrial applications e.g. environmental monitoring and science.  Current and past research has included use of advanced imaging techniques in forensic science.


I taught the following module within the Department of Physics and Astronomy in academic year 2015/16

  • PA3677: Life in the Universe

I also undertook 4th year projects and was a 3rd year project assessor.


I am undertaking development of clinical aids as part of the Diagnostic Development Unit and have looked at potential applications of Life Marker Chip technology in the past, as well as investigating such of techniques for forensic science.

Science Communication

I am a regular speaker at astronomical societies, other societies, schools and special interest groups on the areas of my research.

Selected Publications

Development Status of the Life Marker Chip Instrument for ExoMars, M.R. Sims, D.C. Cullen, C.S. Rix, A. Buckley, M. Derveni, D. Evans, L.M. Garcia-Con, A. Rhodes, C.C. Rato, M. Stefinovic, M.A. Sephton, R.W. Court, C. Bulloch, I. Kitchingman, Z. Ali, D. Pullan, J. Holt. O. Blake, J. Sykes, P. Samara-Ratna, M. Canali, G. Borst, H, Leeuwis, A. Prak, A. Norfini, E. Geraci, M. Tavanti, J. Brucato and N. Holm, Planetary and Space Sciences, 2012, 72, 129-139.

Novel Solvent Systems for In-situ Extraterrestrial Sample Analysis, R. Court, A.O. Baki, M.R. Sims, D. Cullen, and M.A. Sephton, Planetary and Space Science 58, 2010, 1470-1474.

Searching for Life on Mars: Selection of Molecular Targets for ESA’s Aurora ExoMars Mission, J. Parnell, D. Cullen, M.R. Sims, S. Bowden, C.S. Cockell, R. Court, P. Ehrenfreund, F. Gaubert, W. Grant, V. Parro, M. Rohmer, M. Sephton, H. Stan-Lotter, A. Steele, J. Toporski, and J. Vago, Astrobiology,  (August) 2007, 7, Number 4, pp 578-604.

The Specific Molecular identification of Life Experiment (SMILE), M.R. Sims, D.C. Cullen, N.P. Bannister, W.D. Grant, O. Henry, R. Jones, D. McKnight, D.P. Thompson and  P.K. Wilson, Planetary and Space Science, 53, 8 (July) 2005, p781-791

An Evaluation of In-situ Analysis and Sample Return in the Exploration of Mars, M.R. Sims, D. Pullan, C.T. Pillinger, and I. Wright, Planetary and Space Sci, 50, 7-8 (June-July), 2002, p657-668.

A Wide Field X-ray Camera, M.R. Sims, M.J. Turner and R. Willingale, Space Science Instrumentation 5, No.2, 1980, P.109-119.

  • Full publications list [link]

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