Portrait of Professor Mark Burchell

Professor Mark Burchell

Professor of Space Science
Dean of Sciences


Professor Mark Burchell was an undergraduate at Birmingham University (1978-1981), gaining a first class Bsc (Hons) degree. He then received a research council studentship to study for a PhD in experimental particle physics at Imperial College, London (1981-1984). This was followed by post-doc positions at Imperial (1984-1986) and the University of California Santa Cruz (1986-1989) and as a CERN fellow (1989-1992). In 1993 he obtained a lectureship in Space Science at the University of Kent. In 2000 he was promoted Senior Lecturer, to Reader in 2002 and Professor of Space Science in 2007.

Professor Burchell has published over 200 journal papers and given more than 100 research talks at conferences and meetings. He is a member of the American Physical Society and of the Meteoritical Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. From 2006-2008 and again from 2008-2010 he was Chair of the Astrobiology Society of Britain. He has sat on the organising committees (local and scientific) of several scientific conferences, and has helped to organise many one-day meetings at the Royal Astronomy Society (London), the most recent being in November 2018 (Cosmic Dust, main organiser Dr Wozniakiewicz). He was the main organiser of the 14th Hypervelocity Impact Symposium held at Kent in 2017. 

While at the University of Kent, Professor Burchell has held a number of positions including acting head of School, deputy head of department and director of undergraduate studies in Physics. He has been Dean of the Faculty of Sciences since 2010. 

Research interests

Professor Burchell’s research is in hypervelocity impacts, the very violent events typical of Solar System impacts. Using the department’s two-stage light gas gun he can achieve impact speeds in the laboratory of over 8 km/s.

Key areas investigated are:

  • impact cratering in ices
  • intact capture in aerogel
  • impact disruption of target bodies
  • oblique incidence impacts
  • astrobiology (survival of microbial life and complex organics in impact events)
  • hydrocode modelling of impacts.

This has supported work on various space missions, including the NASA Stardust mission to comet 81P/Wild 2. He has also simulated the impact of Smart 1 on the lunar surface for ESA. Currently his work continues on Stardust data analysis (jointly with various US and UK groups), developing new impact sensors for use to detect dust in space (jointly with NASA and various US groups), catastrophic disruption of icy small bodies in the Solar System and hydrocode modelling, and survival of salts, brines and organics in impacts.

World firsts include:

  • microbial life can survive impacts at 5 km/s but that survival falls exponentially with increasing shock pressure
  • Raman techniques are suitable to identify materials captured in aerogel
  • obtaining craters in ammonia-rich ices
  • highest speed impacts in porous ices.

Work is currently (until 2019) funded by a grant from STFC.

As well as pure science he also conducts industrial and enterprise-related work involving high speed impacts and financed by small grants/contracts from various sources. Requests for details are welcome.


Professor Burchell currently lectures on Martian planetary science and experimental particle physics.

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