Research Interests (2006)
My research focuses on numerical modelling of the differentiation of planetary bodies both within and beyond our own solar system. One area of my research focuses on how iron-rich and silicate-rich phases separate in planetary bodies to create iron-rich cores and rocky, iron-poor mantles. Several questions I am trying to address include: Can iron and silicates separate in the solid phase or is melting of both iron and silicates required? What is the temperature distribution in the interior of the terrestrial planets during iron core formation? Why is the iron-core of Mercury so large compared to the other terrestrial planets? The magnetic field data available about Earth, Venus, and Mars can be used to constrain the history of these planets' magnetic fields and thereby, the formation processes of planetary cores. There is also some magnetic field data available for Mercury from Mariner 10, and this will be substantially improved with data collected by the MESSENGER Mission.
The second area of my research involves the search for life in the solar system. Already more than 100 extrasolar planets have been detected, including a 7.5 Earth-Mass planet orbiting the nearby star, GJ876. With new missions, such as Terrestrial Planet Finder, we will be able to detect Earth-like planets around other stars. I am looking at what information can be learned about the interior structure of extrasolar planets based on the behavior of planetary forming materials under compression at the planets' centers and the data available for these planets, usually mass and radius. This information will help us determine whether a given planet is a habitable one on which life may have evolved.