UCL Earth Sciences


GEOL0046 Deep Earth & Planetary Modelling

This module provides an introduction to modern methods to simulate the deep Earth, including computer simulations and experiments. It includes a high level of practical work.

Coordinator: Prof Dario Alfe

Module details
TitleDeep Earth and Planetary Modelling 
UG CodeGEOL0046
CoordinatorProf Dario Alfe
Other ContributorsDr Monica Pozzo
Credit15 credits
Written Exam 
Coursework100% - 1,2,3,4 < 1000 words (25% each) 
Maths & Stats Content and Requirementsimple trigonometry, differentiation and integration of simple functions, logarithms 
Total Number of Hours of Student Work188 hours
Hours of Lectures/Seminars20 hours
Hours of Practicals/Problem Classes20 hours
Hours of Tutorials0
Days of Fieldwork0
  • Basic thermodynamic concepts and their relation to microscopic physics. 1st and 2nd law of thermodynamics. The direction of natural processes.
  • Probability and its relation to Entropy. The partition function.
  • Thermodynamic potentials: Helmholtz free energy, Gibbs free energy, Enthalpy. Equivalent formulations of the 2nd law.
  • The Boltzmann and Gibbs distributions, canonical and gran-canonical averages, sampling methods.
  • Calculating free energies with modern computational methods to simulate materials at high pressure and temperature.
  • the Earth internal structure.
  • earth's core composition, temperature and transport properties.
  • phase diagrams and phase boundaries within the Earth.
  • Practical examples, e.g. thermal expansion of materials. Hands on computer experiments.


The course aims to provide an understanding of key topics in modern techniques to simulate the deep Earth, with particular emphasis to atomistic computer simulations. Specific examples from current research will be presented.


Students will become familiar with the following concepts:

  • Elements of thermodynamics and statistical physics
  • Modern computational methods to simulate materials at high pressure and temperature.
  • Phase diagrams.
  • The Earth internal structure.
  • Earth's core composition, temperature and transport properties.

Practical and transferable outcomes

  • Use of computer simulations to calculate phase diagrams, both at zero and at finite temperature.
  • Equation of states and how to use them to find thermodynamic stability of materials at high pressure and temperature.
  • Comparison theory-experiment and critical evaluation of predictive power of theoretical simulation methods.
  • Use of phase diagrams to interpret planetary bodies interiors. 
  • IT skills.