Dr Leon J. Hicks

PDRA Research Associate in Planetary Science

PhD (University of Leicester), MRes (University of Leeds), BSc (University of Leicester), BSc (University of South Wales)

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 2902

Email: ljh47@le.ac.uk

Office: Room 202, Michael Atiyah Building



Dr Leon Hicks studied for a BSc in Physics with Space Science and Technology at the University of Leicester, as well as an earlier BSc in Astronomy and Geology at the University of South Wales (formerly University of Glamorgan). After completing an MRes in Physics of the Earth and Atmosphere at the University of Leeds, he then returned to the University of Leicester working towards a Physics Research PhD in Planetary Materials and Electron Microscopy. During his PhD, the research involved using a variety of techniques (X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-ray Diffraction, TEM, FIB-SEM, SEM-EDX, and EPMA), to characterise hydrothermal minerals in the nakhlite Martian meteorites, cometary particles from the Stardust mission, and Itokawa asteroid samples from the Hayabusa mission. This PhD research aimed at extending our knowledge of hydrothermal processes on Mars and the origin of comets and asteroids. Afterwards, Leon stayed on at Leicester taking his current position as Research Associate in Planetary Science.

Current Research

My research focusses primarily on meteorites and samples returned by space missions, identifying, analysing, and classifying them. Studying meteorites is important in understanding the origins and evolution of the Solar System. In particular, throughout my PhD martian meteorites (of which there are currently 119 identified) were of significant interest, determining the evolution of the martian crust and the role that water has played on the surface of Mars. For geochemistry and mineralogical analyses of these meteorites, I utilise various instruments currently in the Advanced Microscopy Centre of the University of Leicester including a Phillips XL30 ESEM and a FEI Quanta FEG 650. In addition, a FEI Quanta 200 3D FIB-SEM is used to prepare micron-scale wafer sections (<100 nm thick) from the meteorite samples for high-resolution transmission electron microscopy analysis in a JEOL 2100 TEM.

In relation to meteoritical geochemistry analysis, a current research project involves characterising alteration products similar to those found in the nakhlite martian meteorites, but using analog mineral mixes (Mg-olivine, andesine, augite, nakhlite glass composition, blasting sand as an analog for Fe-rich olivine).  The 1 and 9 month reaction experiments, to produce the alteration minerals, were under conditions attempting to simulate the environmental conditions of the nakhlite Mars setting.

In addition to electron microscopy, I have had extensive experience in X-ray microfocus spectroscopy using the I-18 Beamline, at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, with over 1000 hours of I-18 experiment beamtime. The Beamline has proved to be a highly successful tool for investigating the micrometer-sized nakhlite veining features and fine-grained comet Wild2 and Itokawa samples throughout my PhD and current research. This has included making measurements in X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), which includes Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure (EXAFS) and X-ray Absorption Near-Edge Structure (XANES), and finally transmission X-ray Diffraction (XRD). The primary focus for analysing the XANES, and the shifts and variations in the energy of the Fe-Kα absorption edge and 1s→3d pre-edge peaks, allows us to determine the oxidation state of the ferric (Fe3+) or ferrous (Fe2+) material. Investigating planetary materials at Diamond will continue in the future, including the use of the I-14 Hard X-ray Nanoprobe Beamline.

Mineralogical investigation via XAS and XRD analysis of Comet Wild2 particles have shown the presence of various materials including Fe-metal, silicates, and magnetites. The presence of magnetite is consistent with low temperature water-rock interaction similar to a carbonaceous chondrite matrix, and is the subject of a recent publication in the Meteoritical and Planetary Science journal (Hicks, et al., 2017).

Currently in development are plans to investigate further the water-rock interaction occurring in the matrix of carbonaceous chondrites, making comparisons not only to the Comet Wild 2 findings, but also associations with returned asteroid material from the JAXA Hayabusa-2 and NASA OSIRIS-REx mission.

I also co-supervise PhD student Jack Piercy, and guide other PhD and undergraduate students with microscopy instrumentation and analysis of meteoritical material.

Follow our activities via twitter @LeicsPlanets


J. L. MacArthur, J. C. Bridges, L. J. Hicks, R. Burgess, K. H. Joy, T. Ireland, M. J. Branney, G. M. Hansford, S. H. Baker, S. J. Gurman, S. P. Schwenzer, N. R. Stephen, and E. Steer (in press). Mineralogical Constraints on the Thermal History of Martian Regolith Breccia Northwest Africa 8114. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

M. Balme, A. Bauer, G. Paar, L. Tyler, T. Wilcox, J. Wright, G. Osinski, J. Harris, B. Huber, I. Hutchinson, L. Jackson, A. Caldwell, P. Fawdon, R. Stabbins, C. Traxler, S.M. Turner, B. Yeomans, J. Holt, H. Walker, L. J. Hicks, W. McMahon, C. Cousins, J.-P. Muller, D. Barnes, P. Caballo, S. Schwenzer, R. Barnes, P. Get, L. J. Preston, J. Dequaire, R. Hansen, P. M. Grindrod, M. Gadd, A. Griffiths, S. Kay, Y. Tao, C. Huntly, M. C. Curtis-Rouse, S. Banham, J. C. Bridges, A. Coates, K. Furuya, S. Kyberd, H. N. Lerman, M. McHugh, F. E. G. Butcher, S. Venn, J. M. Davis, M. Gunn, S. Gupta, T. Ortner, C. C. Bedford, P. Edwards (in press). The 2016 UK Space Agency Mars Utah Rover Field Investigation (MURFI). Planetary and Space Science

J. C. Bridges, L. J. Hicks, and A. H. Treiman (2018). Carbonates on Mars. In J. Filiberto and S.P. Schwenzer (Ed.), Volatiles in the Martian Crust. Elsevier.

 J. E. Wickham-Eade, M. J. Burchell, M. C. Price, L. J. Hicks, J. L. MacArthur, J. C. Bridges (2017). Raman identification of olivine grains in fine grained mineral assemblages fired into aerogel. Procedia Engineering, 204, 413-420. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.proeng.2017.09.796

L. J. Hicks, J. L. MacArthur, J. C. Bridges, M. C. Price, J. E. Wickham-Eade, M. J. Burchell, G. M. Hansford, A. L. Butterworth, S. J. Gurman, and S. H. Baker (2017). Magnetite in Comet Wild 2: Evidence for parent body aqueous alteration. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 52, 2075-2096. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maps.12909/full

T. Noguchi, J. C. Bridges, L. J. Hicks, S. J. Gurman, M. Kimura, T. Hashimoto, M. Konno, J. P. Bradley, R. Okazaki, M. Uesugi, T. Yada, Y. Karouji, M. Abe, T. Okada, T. Mitsunari, T. Nakamura, and H. Kagi (2014). Mineralogy of four Itokawa particles collected from the first touchdown site. Earth, Planets and Space, 66, 124-133. https://doi.org/10.1186/1880-5981-66-124

L. J. Hicks, J. C. Bridges, and S. J. Gurman (2014). Ferric saponite and serpentine in the nakhlite martian meteorites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 136, 194–210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2014.04.010

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