The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck


First UCL-PKU Planetary Science and Astrobiology Summer School

18 September 2023

The first UCL-PKU Planetary Science and Astrobiology Summer School exchange programme for four students, two from UCL Earth Sciences and two from Peking University, China, was a great success, as described by UCL host Professor Dominic Papineau.

The four exchange students and UCL hosts sitting at a table and smiling at the camera

The first UCL-PKU Planetary Science and Astrobiology Summer School was held for four weeks in April-May in the UK and four weeks in June in China. Two students from UCL, Princess Buma-At (fourth year MSci in Earth Sciences) and Mark Lee (third year BSc in Natural Sciences), and two students from Peking University, Ruimin Wang (third year PhD student in Astrobiology) and Tianyi Jia (first year PhD student in Planetary Science) participated in the exchange program.

At UCL, the visiting PKU students engaged in research on lunar grains from lunar soils and banded iron formations from the early Earth. They were trained in polarising microscopy and micro-Raman spectroscopy and were able to collect significant datasets for their PhD research. UCL hosts, headed by Professor Dominic Papineau, also engaged in team-bonding activities, museum visits, and organised many presentations on various ongoing astrobiology projects at UCL. Both Tianyi and Ruiming had a great time in London and a very positive experience with this exchange program.

Princess Buma-At pointing towards her research poster while explaining her work to two other attendeees
At PKU, the visiting UCL students engaged in research on putative Precambrian algae microfossils and the abiotic lunar carbon cycle. PKU hosts, headed by Professor Bing Shen, enabled the two UCL students to do optical microscopy on relevant Precambrian specimens. They also organised a visit to an extraterrestrial sample curation facility in Beijing, performed a geology field trip in the Ediacaran of south China (Hubei and Hunan), and all participated in a conference on Earth Systems Science in Shanghai. Both UCL students presented a poster of their research at that conference and Princess even received an outstanding poster prize at that meeting. Both Mark and Princess met great scientific colleagues and also enjoyed sight-seeing tours around Beijing.

Overall, this exchange program stimulated new innovative research on the abiotic lunar carbon cycle and on biosignatures of microscopic lifeforms from the early Earth. The UCL-PKU Planetary Science and Astrobiology Summer School also created new scientific collaboration opportunities and it produced new friendships for these students. It is hoped that this will continue in 2025 and that another generation of young, talented and international astrobiologists and planetary scientists will continue to benefit from such formidable academic experiences.


  • Feature image, from left to right:  Exchange students Princess Buma-At (UCL ES), Mark Lee (UCL Natural Sciences), Tianyi Jia (PKU), Ruiming Wang (PKU), Zixiao Guo (UCL ES), and Dominic Papineau (UCL ES). Credit: D. Papineau.
  • Inset: Princess Buma-At with her research poster at the 7th Conference on Earth System Science (CESS 2023) in Shanghai, for which she was awarded an 'Outstanding Poster' award. Credit: P. Buma-At.