The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck

Dr Dominic Papineau

Dr Dominic Papineau

Associate Professor

Dept of Earth Sciences

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
2nd Sep 2013

Research summary

My main research areas:

- Origin of life in the rock record and evidence of life in Eoarchean rocks (more than 3600 million years old)

- Biosignatures in Precambrian volcano-sedimentary rocks

- The oxygenation of the ocean and atmosphere on the early Earth and the impact on biogeochemical cycles

- The rise of multicellular organisms

- Nano-fabrication and nano-analytical approaches for 'correlated microscopy' of microscopic mineral assemblages.

Research statement: I believe that the solution to the above scientific problems will help to unify various branches of the Earth Sciences and give the necessary basis to directly search for past signs of life on other ancient planetary surfaces. For instance, our discovery of the oldest fossils on Earth (published in 2017, Nature), gives extremely useful comparative information to search for similar biosignatures on other planets. It also increases the probability that extra-terrestrial life exists and is widespread, because we now know that the time needed for the origin of life is shorter than we thought previously. Exobiology and the study of extra-terrestrial fossil records is the ultimate goal of my research program.

Teaching summary

My main teaching activities are (have been):

2018-..:           University College London: Module Organiser for Earth Materials (GEOL0001); 60-75 students

2016-…:          University College London: Module Organiser for Geoscience Reports (GEOL0014); 25-30 students

2014-2017:          University College London: Module Organiser for Geochemistry (GEOL1014); 40-45 students

2011-2013:      At Boston College: course director for Cosmos (GE 177) (200 students), Earth Materials (GE 220) (45 students), Seminar in Earth Systems Sciences (GE 691) (10 students), and Global Biogeochemical Cycles (GE 440) (16 students)


Dr. Papineau was born in 1977 in Montréal, Québec, Canada and his mother tongue is French. He was the first Canadian selected to participate in the NASA Astrobiology Academy in 1999. Papineau obtained his B.Sc. in Physics (major) and Biochemistry (minor) from McGill University in 2001, which included coursework in Astrophysics and research on extra-solar planetary systems at the Université de Montréal. In 2006, he obtained a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences and Astrobiology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in the United States of America. After his PhD, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and then an assistant professor at Boston College, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to join the University College London in 2013. Here, he is based in the London Centre for Nanotechnology, and he built the Geological Spectroscopy Laboratory in the Department of Earth Sciences. He uses micro- and nanoscale analytical approaches to study the composition of minerals in old rocks, including the oldest on Earth, to identify biosignatures in them. His work on the origin and early evolution of life aims at preparing for exobiological studies. He also teaches the modules Earth Materials and Geoscience Report and he now serves as the new Director of the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL.