Formation and characterization of non-biogenic macromolecular organic material
Studying the synthesis of organic matter from simple inorganic compounds to better understand primitive meteorites and to support the search for extinct or extant life on Mars by the future ExoMars rover.
This project shall attempt an abiotic Fischer-Tropsch-type (FTT) synthesis of organic matter from simple inorganic compounds like CO, H2, HCN, H2S, NH3 on metal sulfides and/or montmorillonite catalysts. FTT reactions produce both solvent-extractable products and (kerogen-like) Insoluble Organic Material (IOM). Material similar to the latter is also present to a few wt.% in carbonaceous chondrites (e.g. Murchison, Orgueil). The goals of this study are (1) to compare extraterrestrial to ab-initio (FTT) synthesized IOM, (2) constrain its inorganic pathways of formation, and (3) provide reference data for non-biogenic refractory carbonaceous material in rocks and thereby support the discrimination of biogenic and non-biogenic organic compounds in sedimentary rocks on the surface of Mars. In that respect this project is highly complementary to the alternative PhD project "Artificial maturation of biogenic organic matter".
Synthetic and extraterrestrial IOM shall be characterized using [hydro-]pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry ([Hy-]Py-GC-MS), laser desorption ionization-MS (LDI), and Raman spectroscopy. The MOMA instrument (Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, currently developed by a MPS-led German-French-US team and part of the upcoming ExoMars-2018 rover) utilizes both Py-GC-MS and LDI to search for refractory organic material in Martian sedimentary rocks. If MOMA detects IOM (e.g. as inherited from the continuous micrometeoritic influx) the interpretation of these data will strongly benefit from comparison to reference data on synthetic and meteoritic IOM.
The candidate is expected to have gained previous experience (through e.g. Bachelor/Master project) in at least one of the following fields: Geochemistry, analytical chemistry, mass spectrometry.