The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck


Spotlight on... Priya Patel

10 February 2022

Priya Patel is a second year PhD researcher at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory studying water on Mars using data from the NASA Perseverance Rover and ESA ExoMars missions.

Head shot of Priya Patel

I am a second year PhD student at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), based in Surrey, working with Professor Andrew Coates, PI of the PanCam Instrument onboard the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover. Water is an essential ingredient of life and using the data from various rover and orbiter missions, I aim to study the exchange of water on Mars. As part of the PhD, I am currently spending 10 months at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), contributing towards collecting and analysing atmospheric data from the Perseverance Rover Mission. I am currently involved in using data from Perseverance to observe water-ice clouds at Jezero crater, the landing site of the rover.  I will also be using data from the PanCam instrument on board the ESA ExoMars Rover, launching in September 2022, to study water in the atmosphere at Oxia Planum, the landing site of the Rosalind Franklin rover. 

My undergraduate degree was in Physics at Imperial College London, followed by a masters in Space Sciences & Engineering at UCL. Throughout my career, I have been honoured to receive opportunities of working alongside world-leading scientists and engineers at NASA JPL in California, USA, during a summer internship, and as a young graduate trainee at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), in the Netherlands. At ESA, I was part of the Future Science Missions office in charge of carrying out early phase studies for all upcoming science missions. My main involvement was with LISA – the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, which will be the first space-based gravitational wave observatory,  launching in 2034. It was a remarkable opportunity to work with talented and diverse individuals from all over Europe. 

Priya Patel

I am also really passionate about outreach and education in STEM. For the upcoming ExoMars Rover mission, I am involved in various outreach initiatives with the Centre of Planetary Sciences and MSSL. Together with my colleague, PhD student Catherine Regan, we are working on an outreach project called ‘Eyes On Mars’ aimed at providing resources to school students, spreading awareness of the UK’s involvement of the ExoMars mission and inspiring school students to pursue a STEM career by providing educational resources suited to their age groups. For this project we have received funding from a Royal Astronomical Society Education and Outreach Grant and an STFC Public Engagement Spark Award. We plan to create educational videos and worksheets tailored to the specific age groups, and provide a full package of materials required to carry out a ‘Make Your Own Filter Wheel activity’ in classrooms or at home. Furthermore, we are going to create social media campaigns with short, informal snippets of interviews with diverse UK-based scientists that are involved with the ExoMars mission. 

In the last year, my father and I founded an NGO, Sharda Foundations, named after my late grandmother. The NGO is aimed at providing resources and opportunities to young Indian students from low socio-economic strata to give them exposure to space education. The efforts are aimed at specifically students from government schools in small towns and villages of India, where there is ample talent but low resources. This initiative is close to my heart as I was born in India, however, I was very privileged in receiving unique opportunities that I recognise not all passionate students in India have access to. With this initiative I aim to contribute towards equal access to space education in India.