Summer Undergraduate Research Project – University of Leicester

Posted on Jan 31, 2017 in News | 0 comments

Summer Undergraduate Research Project – University of Leicester

Testing of the Deep Space Petri Pod (DSPP) – John Holt and Dr Graham Wynn

Funded by the UK Space Agency, the Deep Space Petri Pod (DSPP) is a novel instrument development project designing a miniature “life support” environment to conduct astrobiology experiments on missions like the upcoming European Space Agency, Phobos Sample Return mission. Working with colleagues at NASA Ames and the universities of Exeter, Nottingham and Westminster, we have successfully built a high fidelity prototype to enable laboratory testing of the instrument concept.

The successful candidate will work with the team and use the prototype to:

  • Validate the optical density measurement sensors
  • Calibrate the temperature sensors for a Deep Space / extreme environment
  • Verify the operation of the radiation sensor (a RadFET)
  • Conduct population growth tests using the C. elegans worm


Sample return missions provide an ideal opportunity to study the physiological effects of space travel (micro gravity & radiation) beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) on humans by using a model organism like Caenorhabditis elegans. Much of C. elegan’s physiology is remarkably similar to that of humans at the molecular and organ levels (particularly their muscular tissue), which makes them ideal “astronaut” candidates for this type of deep space research. Importantly, it has also been established that C. elegans displays many of the same physiological (mal)adaptations to microgravity in LEO as astronauts. Using in vivo model organisms can therefore provide new information on the biological consequences of long duration, deep space exploration that, ultimately, may be translated into understanding the effects on human astronauts. Access to space and its exploration is a rapidly expanding business that is attracting considerable commercial interest, as well as traditional scientific investigations. The DSPP platform is a general purpose biological platform that enables research to inform both markets.

Applicants should have a strong interest in astrobiology, the interaction of radiation with matter and a background knowledge in microbiology or population modelling would be an advantage.

Application deadline: Friday 10th March 2017

Further information, including application instructions, can be found here.

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