John Bridges

  • Tuesday 20 June 2017
  • 5.30pm-6.30pm
  • Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1
  • Professor Bridges and Professor Stephen Garrett will each present a half-hour lecture.

Exploring Mars

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific -- and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise --
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Keats, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer

Since the earliest telescopic observations of Mars through to the space age, the planet has fascinated us with its hints of an Earth-like past. The desires to explore Mars and look for signs of water and life have motivated space missions from Mariner 4 to Mars Science Laboratory, and the identification and study of over 100 martian meteorites. This in turn has required new images of the martian surface at tens cm scale, and analytical techniques at the micron scale in our laboratories. Preparation for Mars Sample Return and ultimately human exploration will continue to stimulate new advances in planetary and analytical science. Europe, USA, China, India, Russia, UAE are all developing plans to explore Mars.

Using the new remote and meteorite evidence we now have a record of Mars’ evolution spanning over 4 billion years and showing a change from a ‘warm and wet’ environment to today’s cold and dry desert. Understanding this great change is a key challenge in planetary science. In this talk I will describe how we are piecing together the puzzle of Mars’ evolution with current missions and laboratory analyses, and our plans for future exploration.

John Bridges, Professor of Planetary Science

John Bridges 200x266.jpgI went to school in Aberdeen then moved on to Edinburgh University graduating with a BSc in Geology in 1988. Following that I went to the Open University graduating with a PhD in mineralogy in 1992.  In 1992 I joined the then Dept. of Mineralogy at the Natural History Museum as a research assistant to study meteorites and planetary science. After subsequent periods working at the Open University, UCLA, NASA Johnson Space Center (2003-7) I joined the Space Research Centre in 2007 as a Research Councils UK Research Fellow, to start  a new theme of planetary science research at our university,  becoming a Reader in 2012 and Professor in 2015.

My research interests and those of my team are interdisciplinary, focusing on planetary materials and the evolution of the Mars surface. We have developed new electron microscopy, synchrotron techniques to analyse microsamples of asteroidal and martian meteorites and cometary grains in response to the challenges of sample return missions like Stardust. This research has included detailed analyses of hydrothermal processes in the nakhlite martian meteorites, and evidence for water-rock reaction on the Comet Wild2 parent body. My papers include some of the most highly cited works on martian meteorites and planetary materials. I lead the only European Mars Science Laboratory Participating Scientist team (2012-), ChemCam investigator (2012- on the Curiosity Rover), Beagle2 team member,  HiRISE camera Co-I on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, ExoMars, Stardust cometary return. One of the highlights of my research career so far is being at JPL in Pasadena during the landing of the Curiosity Rover in August 2012 and giving a talk a few hours later by video link to an audience of school children and potential scientists at the National Space Centre.

My teaching has developed in tandem with my research and includes distance learning in Astronomy and planetary science courses for the Open University as an Associate Lecturer 2005-2011. Along the way I enrolled in more courses myself to keep up to date with a rapidly evolving Physical Sciences teaching and research environment. I am committed to public outreach and have been a Project Scientist at the National Space Academy since 2013, and more recently teach in the new Foundation Course for the College of Science. I have introduced many Leicester Dept. of Physics and Astronomy undergraduates, PhD students and interns to planetary materials research and mission involvement.

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