Software engineer needed to date dinosaurs

The London Geochronology Centre (LGC) at University College London (UCL) is recruiting a Research Software Engineer (RSE) to develop software that will enable geologists to better date the Solar System, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and early human evolution. The project will be funded for a period of three years (April 2020 - March 2023) at the first instance (grade 8, starting salary: £44,674 - 52,701). No prior knowledge of geology or geochronology is required, provided that the applicant is willing to learn on the job. Apply here or contact p.vermeesch[at] for further information.

A brief summary of the project

The development of radiometric geochronology is one of the greatest triumphs of 20th century geoscience. Geochronology underpins the study of Earth history and puts fundamental constraints on the rate of biological evolution. Tremendous resources are invested in the development of sophisticated mass spectrometers capable of measuring isotopic ratios with ever increasing resolution and sensitivity. Unfortunately, the statistical treatment of mass spectrometer data has not kept up with these hardware developments and this undermines the reliability of radiometric geochronology.

A new research project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, Standard Grant #NE/T001518/1 "Beyond Isoplot: new software for better geochronology.") aims to change this situation by creating a 'software revolution' in geochronology. The project will build an internally consistent ecosystem of computer programs to account for inter-sample error correlations. These correlations have a first order effect on the precision and accuracy of geochronology but are largely ignored by current geochronological data processing protocols. The proposed software will modify existing data reduction platforms and create entirely new ones. It will implement a data exchange format to combine datasets from multiple chronometers together whilst keeping track of the correlated uncertainties between them, using IsoplotR code as the 'glue' between the components.
image/svg+xml ET_Redux IsoplotR4Excel IsoplotR shinylight IsoplotRgui GTS20xx Ar-Ar_Redux timezero PyChron UPbeat simplex DDE sparrow heliocalc geochron@home
Organigram of the proposed geochronological software. This figure contains clickable links with further details. The software ecosystem includes existing codes (e.g., IsoplotR, IsoplotRgui, ET_Redux, Pychron) that require modification to accept a common data exchange format. Other programs (IsoplotR4Excel, shinylight and timezero) are yet to be created. Boxes group components that can be packaged together for separate applications. All software developed under this project will be free and open.

The new algorithms will be applied to five important geological problems, including (1) the age of the Solar System; (2) the timing of the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs; (3) the age of the famous Taung Child hominin fossil; (4) the formation and cooling history of the Earth's crust; and (5) noble gas diffusion in silicate minerals and rocks. These applications demonstrate the far-reaching implications of the proposed software revolution, which may open up entirely new geochronological applications as well.

Further particulars

Specific tasks will include:
  1. Adding user-friendly GUIs to existing command line code.
  2. Translating proof-of-concept code written in R to other languages such as Python and Java.
  3. Modifying existing Python, Java, Javascript, and C/C++ code to increase algorithmic robustness.
  4. Removing dependencies of existing software on libraries such as jQuery.
All the software developed under the project will be free and open using GPL and MIT licenses.

The successful applicant will hold an Associate Researcher position at UCL's Research Software Development (RSD) team, which is a group of 17 software engineers who work on a wide range of research software projects across the entire university. Following completion of the project, the successful candidate will be considered for further employment opportunities with the RSD unit.

The RSE will have the opportunity (but will not be obliged) to take part in the scientific applications of the project, attend international conferences, participate in workshops, conduct laboratory experiments etc.


Email p.vermeesch[at] for further information.