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Photoelectrochemical Devices for Space Applications

We are thrilled to welcome Dr Katharina Brinkert from the Chemistry Department at the University of Warwick as the next speaker in the Centre for Exoplanets and Habitability seminar series. Dr Brinkert will be giving a talk titled 'Photoelectrochemical Devices for Space Applications'.

Human deep space exploration will rely on efficient and sustainable life support systems for the production of oxygen and other chemicals as well as the recycling of carbon dioxide. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices are investigated for the light-assisted production of hydrogen and carbon-based fuels from CO2 within the green energy transition on Earth [1]. Similarly to natural photosynthesis, they only require water and solar energy for the process and release oxygen as a by-product. Their monolithic, compact design comprising integrated semiconductor-electrocatalyst systems for light absorption, charge separation and catalysis as well as their sole reliance on solar energy makes them attractive for applications in space, where they can directly convert solar into chemical energy without requiring additional accessories [2,3]. This talk highlights our recent experiments with PEC devices in microgravity environments realised for 9.3 s at the Bremen Drop Tower and links results regarding device efficiencies to gas bubble management [4] and optoelectronic simulations [5]. We will discuss obstacles such as the limiting solar irradiance on Mars as well as the reduced gravitation on the Martian and lunar surface for the application of PEC and other electrochemical devices in these environments and point to practical, sustainable solutions how to overcome them.

[1] Fehr A. M. K. et al. (2023). "Integrated halide perovskite photoelectrochemical cells with solar-driven water-splitting efficiency of 20.8%", Nat. Commun. 14 (3797).
[2] Brinkert K. et al. (2018). Nat. Commun. 9 (2527).
[3] Brinkert K. and Mandin, P. (2022). "Fundamentals and future applications of electrochemical energy conversion in space", npj Microgravity 52
[4] Romero-Calvo Á. et al. (2022). "Magnetic phase separation in microgravity", Microgravity 8 (32)
[5] Ross B. et al. (2023). "Assessment of the technological viability of photoelectrochemical devices for oxygen and fuel production on Moon and Mars", Nat. Commun. 14, (3141)

Planets, Exoplanets, and Life

We are very excited to welcome Prof Jane Greaves from Cardiff University as the next speaker in the Centre for Exoplanets and Habitability seminar series. Prof Greaves will be giving a talk titled "Planets, Exoplanets, & Life" on Friday 16th June 2023.

So what was all that furore about phosphine? I will report on new observations of phosphine in Venus' clouds, and place these in the context of possible sources, such as active volcanoes or even extant life. New techniques are being developed for agnostic biosignatures, and new models are emerging for biosignature gases in different planetary environments. I will discuss the crossover of these advances for exoplanetary science and some of the lessons learned from solar system life searches. Finally, I will introduce some ongoing observing campaigns that can help to assess habitability of rocky exoplanets.

A Pathway to the Confirmation and Characterisation of Habitable Alien Worlds

We are delighted to welcome our own Dr Heather Cegla as the next speaker in the Centre for Exoplanets and Habitability seminar series. Dr Cegla will be giving a talk titled 'A pathway to the confirmation and characterisation of habitable alien worlds'.

Are we alone in the Universe? Since the confirmation of the first planets outside our solar system in the 1990s, we have made tremendous progress towards answering this question. Yet, the confirmation of a true Earth-analogue still evades us. On top of this, if we are truly to understand the origins of life in the cosmos, we must also create a complete picture of planetary formation, evolution, and habitability. However, each of these aspects necessitates a detailed knowledge of Sun-like stars. This is because we study exoplanets indirectly by analysing their much more luminous host stars. For example, most planet confirmation relies on the Doppler wobble of the host star, induced by the presence of the planet. Moreover, we can learn about a planet's dynamical history from mapping its projected orbit as it transits its host star. Hence, if there are inhomogeneities on the stellar surface, they can impact planetary interpretations and even completely swamp the signals from rocky worlds. In this talk, I will discuss how we confirm and characterise planets outside our solar system and how our knowledge of their host stars poses a fundamental hurdle we must overcome on the pathway to rocky, temperate worlds.

There’s No Place Like Home: Placing Earth in its Astronomical and Geological Contexts

It is our pleasure to welcome Dr Raphaëlle Haywood from the University of Exeter to the Centre for Exoplanets and Habitability seminar series. Dr Haywood will be giving a talk titled 'There’s No Place Like Home: Placing Earth in its Astronomical and Geological Contexts'.

Recent revolutionary discoveries in astronomy are showing that Earth is one of billions of planets, and that terrestrial, temperate planets are commonplace in our galaxy. Geological records indicate that Earth has been many different worlds over time, and life has shown extraordinary resilience through these planetary changes. If we could go to the stars and point our telescopes back at Earth, what would we see? How does life alter Earth's astronomical character? We will look at one of Earth's defining ecosystems: the Amazon rainforest, which is observable from cosmic distances. We will reflect on the impact of various human civilisations. Ultimately, we will draw on these astronomical and geological perspectives to demonstrate that humanity's flourishing is profoundly tied to maintaining this world, here, that we co-evolved with.

GRP Keynote Lecture: Didier Queloz

It was our pleasure to welcome Prof. Didier Queloz for our first annual Habitability GRP keynote lecture. Prof. Queloz shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics with Michel Mayor and James Peebles, for discovering the first exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star, 51 Pegasi b. We were treated to a fascinating overview of past, present and future efforts to find life on worlds outside the Solar System. Upcoming missions like JWST and PLATO will probe more effectively than ever before, edging us ever-closer to answering the age-old question: are we alone?

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