UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Dr Louisa Preston

Dr Louisa Preston is a Lecturer in Planetary Science at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL).

Dr Louisa Preston

2 April 2024

When did you take up this position? What was your position beforehand?

I joined UCL in 2022 after I finished a UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellowship at the Natural History Museum. I completed my MSci in Geology (Earth Resources) and PhD in Planetary Geology and Astrobiology at Imperial College London, and then moved to Canada for a Postdoc at Western University in London, Ontario. 

After this I returned to the UK to become a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Open University and wrote my first book ‘Goldilocks and the Water Bears.’

Tell us about your work at UCL - how do you spend your days, and what makes your role different to similar positions elsewhere?

I have a pretty varied portfolio as Planetary Science and Astrobiology are incredibly multidisciplinary fields, so excitingly my work is very diverse. My days are usually a mix of research, teaching and outreach.

As part of the Planetary Group at MSSL I have set up the Habitability Lab, a growing group of astrobiologists, geologists, biologists, chemists and remote sensing experts, all working towards understanding the habitability potential of planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond. 

We are particularly interested in developing techniques and technologies, especially IR spectroscopy, for astrobiological investigations. We combine experimental simulations, fieldwork, and spectroscopic analyses, blending geological and biological methods, to better enable biosignature detection within terrestrial and planetary materials, and even within the atmospheres of exoplanets. 

We are studying rocks and ice on the Earth, the Moon, Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan as well as studying organics within space materials such as meteorites, ices, and the interstellar medium itself.

Excitingly, I also get to work on space mission development. I am a Co-Investigator for the PanCam and Enfys instruments onboard the Rosalind Franklin rover which are being co-developed and built at MSSL and are heading to Mars in 2028. Plus I am a Co-Investigator on the Canadian Space Agency’s LEAP Lunar Rover Mission and on the science team for its LaFORGE instrument. 

Science communication is incredibly important to me so I am a Lecturer and co-lead the module on Planetary Science for Physics and Astronomy, and regularly give talks at schools, public events and for the media.

What are some of your favourite things about working at UCL? How have you found it different to previous jobs?

The people, and the opportunities for novel collaborations, are by far what makes working at UCL more than just a job. Everyone here is passionate about what they do, whether that is research or teaching, and that is an incredibly inspiring environment to be in.

Can you tell us about any upcoming research, or future projects that you're looking forward to working on?

The epitome of working on space-related projects is to be able to actively contribute to the missions bringing home this data. In the coming years we will be sending the Rosalind Franklin rover to Mars, a project that I have been championing and working on, for over a decade. Rosalind has the potential to finally answer the question as to whether life ever existed on Mars, which will be an incredibly exciting and profound discovery.

Have you always been based in London? If not, when did you move here, and how did you find adapting to living in London?

Ironically, I have always worked in and around London, both the UK and Canadian versions! I currently work at MSSL in the Surrey hills, however spend a lot of time in Bloomsbury for teaching and meeting collaborators. London has always been my home city and there is nowhere like it!

Finally, tell us about your non-work life. Do you have any hobbies, or favourite places to go in London?

I live in the countryside, so I am lucky to be able to spend a lot of time outdoors, either walking in the Downs, running country trails, or standing pitch side with freezing toes watching my kids play football/rugby/hockey games. 

I also love interior design so always have a project on the go! Living close to London means we visit often. We love going to the theatre and always squeeze in a visit to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.