skip to content

Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe


Applications are currently closed.

The Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe and the University of Cambridge are committed to widening participation in postgraduate students at the University of Cambridge. 

Research within the Centre aims to develop a deeper understanding of life, its emergence, and its distribution in the Universe by addressing four questions: 

  • What are the chemical pathways which led to the origins of life that are compatible with benign conditions for life in different planetary environments? 
  • How do we characterise the environments on Earth and other planets that could act as the cradle of prebiotic chemistry and life? 
  • What observational facilities and methods will allow investigation of bodies beyond the Solar System, the remote sensing of their atmospheres and the search for signatures of geological and biological evolution? 
  • How can philosophical and mathematical concepts refine our understanding of what we mean by life, leading to new interdisciplinary collaborations and modes of scientific enquiry? 

We have two fully funded PhD studentships available for home (UK) students starting October 2024. These studentships will cover fees and stipend for home students for 4 years and research cost support will be provided. 

These studentships are for students who fulfil one or more of the following criteria: 

  • are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) 
  • are in the first generation of their family to go to university 
  • who have been in care or who have been a young carer 
  • are from a low-income background 


PhD applications open 18 September 2023 
Applications shut 14 November 2023 
Interviews with supervisors 14 November - 1 December 2023 
Interviews with LCLU 1-14 December 2023 
LCLU makes offers – students apply through University of Cambridge graduate application scheme with letter of funding 1-14 December 2023 
Cambridge University Postgraduate admissions deadline 4 January 2024 
Deadline to accept PhD place (TBC) 15 March 2024 

How to apply 

Applicants will need to send all of the following to by 5pm, 14th November, 2023. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

  1. Completed application form and CV 
  2. Referees to email their references to by 5pm, 14th November, 2023. Note that it is the applicants responsibility to ensure that the references are sent. Information for referees: Please comment on the applicants academic fitness and suitability for the course. Their academic results to date and their research experience, ability to work independently, key strengths and weaknesses. 

     Please also give the following rankings:
           -  Academic ranking 
           -  Student potential 
          -  Course suitability 

3. Completed EDI form
4. Official transcripts from applicants university
5. If you are applying to humanities, please include up to 5 writing samples of your own work (there is no word limit to the samples you provide).

Participating Departments at the University of Cambridge
Cavendish Laboratory, Institute of Astronomy, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, Department of Earth Sciences, Department of Zoology, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Divinity, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. 

Research Proposals

The origin and evolution of archaeal lipid membranes 
Supervisor: Claudia Bonfio, Department of Biochemistry 

Searching for the signs of geological and biological evolution in exoplanetary systems using white dwarfs
Supervisor: Amy Bonsor, Institute of Astronomy

Spectral response function mapping to detect Earth twins
Supervisor: David Buscher, Department of Physics

Precambrian mudrock from source-to-sink: an Earth analogue to identify pre-multicellular life habitable environments that have high biosignature preservation potential
Supervisor: Neil S. Davies, Department of Earth Sciences

Unravelling the chemistry of environments conducive to life on Mars using machine learning
Supervisor: Richard Harrison, Department of Earth Sciences

Philosophical Foundations of Astrobiology
Supervisor: Tim Lewens, Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Commissioning, characterising and applying HARPS3 to search for low-mass, long-period exoplanets
Supervisor: Didier Queloz, Cavendish Astrophysics

Will short-period planets contain life-essential elements?
Supervisor: Oliver Shorttle, Department of Earth Sciences and Institute of Astronomy

Simulating reaction networks for prebiotic environments
Supervisor: Alex Thom, Department of Chemistry

Ironing out prebiotic environments on the early Earth
Supervisor: Nicholas Tosca, Department of Earth Sciences

The implications of large asteroid break-ups for (exo-)Earth climate and habitability
Supervisor: Mark Wyatt, Institute of Astronomy


For any enquiries, please contact: