Postgraduate research opportunities

Circular nutrient metabolism for Mars exploration

The study will assess potential applications of Chemical & Process Engineering on circular nutrient metabolism with focus on urine utilization under the resources available and the constraints existing on Mars.

Number of places



14 May 2020


3 years


Students applying should have (or expect to achieve) a high 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant Engineering/science discipline, and must be highly motivated to undertake multidisciplinary research. 

Knowledge of chemical process modelling and/or adsorption, advanced oxidation processes is desirable.

Project Details

For any travel humans need practical and affordable ways to use resources along the way, rather than carrying everything that might be needed. Thus, humans on Mars would have to do what explorers have always done, live off the resources available on site. In principle, Chemical Engineering can be applied in any environment to transform raw materials into useful products in a scale for humans to survive and develop civilization. Chemical Engineering can give the answers on how to accomplish in situ resource utilization and efficient resource recovery under challenging constraints; e.g. a weaker gravitational field affects fluid flow and solids suspension, ambient temperature and low atmospheric pressure affect fluids thermodynamics and materials properties.


Mars is not entirely barren and there are resources that could be exploited for developing chemistries and processes, namely Fe2O3, SiO2, Al2O3, TiO2, chloride salts, hydrated porous aluminosilicate materials, subsoil water, sunlight, abundant UV radiation and atmospheric CO2, N2 and Ar. However, these resources are not sufficient to support the production of food. Humans are metabolic engines producing waste, such as urine that contains nitrogen, in the form of urea and ammonia, potassium, phosphorous and water. These elements and compounds can be harnessed for the production of food by utilizing hydroponics technology. However, human waste contains pathogens requiring disinfection before any use.


The current efforts on resources utilization on Mars concentrate around the harvesting of subsoil water and production of methane and oxygen from atmospheric CO2. This PhD project looks at ways to use Earth analogues of the available resources on Mars to design chemical engineering processes such as adsorption (nutrients separation) and catalytic oxidation (organics degradation, disinfection), for the recovery of resources from human urine.

In addition to undertaking cutting edge research, students are also registered for the Postgraduate Certificate in Researcher Development (PGCert), which is a supplementary qualification that develops a student’s skills, networks and career prospects.

Funding Details

This PhD project is initially offered on a self-funding basis. However, excellent candidates will be considered for a University scholarship.



Primary supervisor - Dr Vassilis Inglezakis

External supervisor - Stavros Poulopoulos, Associate Professor, Nazarbayev University, Republic of Kazakhstan

Contact us

Miss Ewa Kosciuk

+44(0) 141 548 2835

James Weir Building, 75 Montrose Street, Glasgow, G1 1XJ

How to apply

Apply for this project here – please quote the project title in your application.

During the application you'll be asked for the following information and evidence uploaded to the application:

  • your full contact details
  • transcripts and certificates of all degrees
  • proof of English language proficiency if you are not from a majority English-speaking country as recognised by UKVI
  • two references, one of which must be academic. Please see our guidance on referees
  • funding or scholarship information
  • international students must declare any previous UK study

By filling these details out as fully as possible, you'll avoid any delay to your application being processed by the University.

Useful resources

Your application and offer

Application System Guide

Fees and funding