The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck


Dr Mihkel Kama


Dept of Physics & Astronomy

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Jul 2020

Research summary

We live in a remarkable age, where exopanet discoveries and solar system exploration are proceeding rapidly. We now know of over 4000 exoplanets, yet the full range of their properties remains a mystery. How did all these thousands of different planets form? What is the origin and diversity of their chemical composition? Are habitable worlds like Earth common? We can find many of the answers by studying young stars and their disks of planet-forming material.

Planets form in protoplanetary disks, containing gas, ices, and dust (tiny rocks). In my group, we aim to relate disk processes to outcomes in terms of planetary systems. Much of the work is centered on the chemical composition of protoplanetary disks, employing powerful telescopes like ALMA and APEX, and physical-chemical disk models. Examples of this work can be found in Kama et al. (2016a,b; 2019; and 2020).

Optical spectroscopy of early-type stars with disks and planets is a complementary area of work. developed a new tool for measuring the full elemental composition of the main planet-forming zone in disks. It relies on the relatively slow mixing in the envelopes of stars with over 1.4 Solar masses, which allows freshly accreted material to dominate the surface. The photospheric composition of the star, which is relatively easily measured, becomes an almost one-to-one proxy for measuring the inner disk content of chemical elements (Jermyn & Kama 2018).

I'm privileged to currently be working with several wonderful PhD students: Luke Keyte and Kan Chen at UCL, and as a co-advisor with Kertu Metsoja at the University of Tartu. You're very welcome to contact me to discuss projects at any level, in particular for a PhD or to collaborate at UCL as a postdoctoral fellow.

I'm also a member of several space mission consortia, currently most actively in the Ariel exoplanet mission which is led by UCL's Prof. Giovanna Tinetti. Ariel is expected to launch in 2029 and will measure the chemical composition of up to 1000 exoplanets.