PhD student wins award for device to detect water on other planets

Prarthana Desai conducting experimental work in Boulby MIne, North Yorkshire
Prarthana Desai conducting experimental work in Boulby MIne, North Yorkshire

PhD student Prarthana Desai has received a prestigious award from the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers (WCSIM).
Desai received the highly competitive WCSIM Freeman Scholarship, worth £2000, which is made each year to postgraduate researchers engaged in work on cutting-edge scientific instrumentation systems.  
Desai is currently a PhD student whose research focuses on the search for life in outer space; specifically by developing and field testing a portable novel water activity detector which has been optimised for planetary exploration.  
The PhD researcher conducted experimental research for this innovative new water-detecting device at extreme locations including Boulby Mine (pictured), North Yorkshire at depths of more than 1km below ground, and in the Basque Lakes in Canada.
During the latter trip – which was funded by an RSE Lessels Scholarship – Desai presented her work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is home to Nasa’s mission control centre for the current Perseverance exploration of Mars, and Nasa’s Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley.

Reacting to the award, Desai said: “I feel honoured and thrilled - this scholarship would give me an edge for future job applications and help me build a new career path in Space research.”

Desai is based in Professor Ian Underwood’s research group at the Institute for Integrated Micro and Nano Systems (IMNS) and is co-supervised by Charles Cockell, Professor of Astrobiology in the School of Physics & Astronomy.
Her work is being carried out in collaboration with the UK Centre for Astrobiology (UKCA), UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA.

Find out more