An exceptional grant for an innovative project

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Naomi Murdoch, physicist and planetary scientist at ISAE-SUPAERO, has just received an ERC Consolidator Grant of 2.3 million euros over 5 years for her GRAVITE project. The aim is to build a variable gravity machine that will then be used to simulate and study extraterrestrial soils. The only criterion for obtaining this prestigious and competitive research grant is the scientific excellence of both the researcher and the project they want to carry out.

Recognition for an ambition

The selective and internationally recognized ERC (European Research Council) program promotes and finances international exploratory research at the highest level. The "Consolidator" grants are aimed at researchers with 7 to 12 years of experience since completion of their PhD; the grants are intended to strengthen the researcher’s team and to provide resources for ambitious research projects, addressing major and highly innovative challenges.

Naomi Murdoch, physics and planetology researcher at ISAE-SUPAERO
Naomi Murdoch, physics and planetology researcher

Naomi Murdoch has been a member of the Space Systems for Planetary Applications (SSPA) research group at ISAE-SUPAERO for 10 years. She holds a master’s degree in astrophysics (University of Edinburgh, 2007) and a PhD in physics and planetary sciences (Open University and the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, 2012), and has contributed to numerous international space missions carried out by NASA (DART, InSight, Mars 2020), ESA (Hera) and JAXA (MMX).

Her research is more specifically related to the geophysics of asteroids and terrestrial planets. She also investigates the interactions between space instrumentation and the surfaces of planetary bodies, in order to prepare for future space missions and to enable the most accurate interpretation possible of the data collected in situ. Her GRAVITE project, supported by the 2.3 million euro ERC grant, is linked to the geotechnical study of planetary bodies.

GRAVITE, a project to prepare for future planetary explorations

Predicting and interpreting the behaviour and mechanical properties of the surface of planetary bodies is a flourishing field of research. In terrestrial geophysics and planetary exploration, different techniques are currently used to determine the mechanical properties of a soil in situ.

GRAVITE aims to test the limits of existing techniques and develop new models that will take into account the diverse nature of planetary surfaces and the reduced gravity environment. To achieve this goal, GRAVITE will develop a variable gravity machine, at the cutting edge of planetary science.
This machine will be able to perform experiments in a vacuum and in a wide range of gravity conditions, up to levels a thousand times lower than the Earth’s gravity in order to simulate the surfaces of small bodies (asteroids, comets, small moons, etc.). Naomi Murdoch aims to provide the players involved in planetary exploration with geotechnical models adapted to extraterrestrial environments.

The project will start in 2024 for a 5-year period and the ERC scholarship will enable Naomi Murdoch to hire a team of PhD students, researchers and engineers to carry out this ambitious project.

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