Research themes

Understanding the Universe through the exploration of frontiers on Earth and in space is a major scientific endeavour that involves tackling some of the major outstanding scientific questions of our time. In parallel, developing the technology required for space exploration represents one of the most challenging engineering opportunities of our time and is an economic and innovation driver for advanced technologies. At the same time, there are increasing commonalities in the techniques and technologies being applied to the exploration of remote and/or extreme locations on Earth, such as Arctic Canada, and deep underground mines, and the exploration of Space. Space also provides a unique way to attract the brightest young minds to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields and engage them in research.

The Institute for Earth and Space Exploration, in partnership with various departments and faculties, focuses on problem-based interdisciplinary research and training in Earth and space exploration and STEM outreach and public engagement.

Earth Observation, Monitoring, and Protection

 Blue Marble photo of Earth taken during the Apollo 11 mission (NASA).

One of the most iconic images ever taken is the famous "Blue Marble" photograph taken on December 7th 1972, as the Apollo 17 crew left Earth’s orbit for the Moon. This image was the first to capture a full view of the Earth and inspired the whole concept of environmental protection in the 1970s. It provides a constant reminder of the inexorable links between Space Exploration and Earth Observation, Monitoring, and Protection.

Research conducted in the Earth Observation, Monitoring, and Protection theme takes a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach to using satellites and ground-based systems to study the atmospheric divide between the Earth’s atmosphere and “space”. These same systems are also used to monitor hazards associated with space debris and the impact of extraterrestrial objects on Earth. Data from Earth-observation satellites are used to monitor and protect our environment, map remote regions of the world (e.g., Arctic Canada), and to explore for, and manage existing, natural resources in a sustainable way. This theme contains three main subthemes:

  • Remote sensing and remote predictive mapping – using satellites to produce remote predictive maps of the Arctic and other regions of the world, to search for natural resources, and for environmental monitoring;
  • Atmospheric studies – studying Earth’s atmosphere from the ground to altitudes of ~110 km, monitoring atmospheric change;
  • Space hazards – studying and monitoring natural hazards in the form of meteors, to the increasing problem of space debris.

People Involved in this research:

Peter Brown - pbrown@uwo.ca
Reasearch Interests: The origin of metoroids, Origin of meteorites, Physical structure of meteoroids, Flux and interaction of larger meteoroids at Earth.

Gordon Osinski - gosinski@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary surface processes, in particular impact cratering; shock processes in earth and planetary materials.

Phil Stooke - pjstooke@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Cartography, planetary geology, space history.

Livio Tornabene - ltornabe@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary remote sensing (Mars, Moon and Earth), impact cratering as a geologic process, and Martian spectroscopy as it pertains to petrogenesis and evolution (alteration) of the upper crust.

Jinfei Wang - jfwang@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Algorithms for automatic linear and other man-made feature detection from images, Methods for GIS feature extraction, Methods for object oriented information extraction from high resolution remotely sensed imagery and Applications of radar/optical remote sensing.

Paul Wiegert - pwiegert@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Dynamics of the Solar System, particularly its smaller bodies, asteroids, comets and meteoroid streams. I’m also interested in the dynamics of planets around other stars, and in celestial mechanics in general.

Neil Banerjee - neil.banerjee@uwo.ca

Catherine Neish - cneish@uwo.ca

James Voogt - javoogt@uwo.ca

Exploration Technologies

ROC-6 Rover exploring Sudbury Lunar Analogue Site

It is widely recognized that Space is an innovation driver and that participation in international space projects demonstrates Canada’s position as a sophisticated research and innovation leader, with a global advantage in several niche technology areas, including robotics. At the same time, there are increasing commonalities in the techniques and technologies being used in the exploration of Space to and the exploration of remote and/or extreme locations on Earth, such as northern regions of Canada and deep underground mines. These technological advances involve the increasing use of robotics, autonomous data capture, and real-time analysis. Research conducted in the Exploration Technologies theme focuses on the following subthemes: 

  • instrumentation – designing instrumentation for the real-time analysis of samples; Western Space's partnership between scientists and engineers allows us to solve science-driven engineering design problems to develop instrument designs that are optimized for scientific return
  • Robotics and Telerobotics – designing robotic and mechatronic systems that can be used to collect, analyse and curate samples from both Earth and space. This work includes teleoperated systems for mining and sample extraction, rover design and control and automated processing of scientific data.
  • Power systems – space and other remote systems must operate independent of infrastructure. This research theme focuses on power systems built around renewable resources such as nuclear, wind and solar power and on the design of microgrids for localized power distribution and control 
  • Communications and data science – scientific return from exploration missions, both in space and in remote regions of the Earth, depends on the ability to collect, transmit, store and analyze large data sets. Hyperspectral camera scans can easily generate terabytes of information in a matter of hours. At the same time, exploration missions have limited power and communication bandwidth available. As a result, specialized data management solutions are required. 

People Involved in this research:

Samuel Asokanthan - sasokant@uwo.ca
Reasearch Interests: Dynamic Systems and Control as applied, in particular, to Flexible Structures and Rotating and Axially Moving Flexible Multi-body Systems.

Ken McIsaac - kmcisaac@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Biomimetic robotic locomotion, Multi-robot coordination, Reconfigurable robotics and Medical and assistive robotics.

George Knopf - gkknopf@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Inteliigent systems for interactive design, laser microfabrication and microfluidics, and bioelectronic photodetectors and imaging systems.

Michael Naish - mnaish@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Application of mechatronic principles to the design and development of systems and devices.

Gordon Osinski - gosinski@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary surface processes, in particular impact cratering; shock processes in earth and planetary materials.

Rajni Patel - rvpatel@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Robotic/mechatronic technologies for minimally invasive surgery and therapy; movement disorders and rehabilitation engineering.

Ilia Polushin - ipolushin@eng.uwo.ca
Research Interests: Robotics with a focus on teleoperations, control systems, and biomedical applications.

Jayshri Sabarinathan - jsabarinathan@eng.uwo.ca
Research Interests: Nanoscale Integrated photonics for future bio-photonic sensors and high-speed communication applications.

Rajiv Varma - rkvarma@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Novel controls and grid intergration of PV solar systems, flexible AC transmission systems, power system stability, power quality, computer simulation of power systems, and real time digital simulation.

Tim Newson - tnewson@eng.uwo.ca

Planetary Processes

The 2015 expedition to Tunnunik crater - exploring other wolrds by exploring Earth.

The surface and atmosphere of Solar System objects are shaped by numerous processes, both endogenous (e.g., volcanism) and exogenous (e.g., meteorite impact). The discovery of planets outside our Solar System (exoplanets) extends this quest to understand planetary processes to even more distant worlds. Knowledge of the origin and dynamics of planetary systems and the processes that subsequently shape their interior, surface, and atmospheres provides important constraints for understanding the origin of life on Earth and the prospect of finding life elsewhere in the Universe.

Analysis of planetary materials (meteorites, Apollo samples, etc.) and materials from planetary analogue environments on Earth (e.g., impact craters, hot and cold springs) in the laboratory is critical for developing a more detailed and quantitative understanding of Solar System history and chronology. This forms a cornerstone of astrobiology through the study of extremophiles and the identification of biosignatures that informs planetary exploring missions looking for signs of past or present life elsewhere. 

Research in the Planetary Processes and Materials theme focuses on:

  • Planetary Surface Processes – studying the features visible on planetary bodies and trying to understand the underlying physical processes which produce them;
  • Planetary Atmospheres – examining the thin veneer of gases that surround most planet- sized bodies and interpreting gas dynamics, thermodynamics and chemistry;
  • Planetary Dynamics – understanding the interaction of planets and small bodies dynamically and observational characterization of planetary objects within and outside our Solar System;
  • Planetary Interiors – inferring the internal structure of planetary bodies and unravelling their formation histories and subsequent evolution;
  • Exoplanets – searching for extrasolar planets and investigating the formation and diversity of planetary systems, the place that our own solar system occupies in this broader picture, and the habitability of extrasolar planets;
  • Planet Formation – conducting observational and theoretical investigations on the environments and processes that lead to the formation of planetary systems, and studying their evolution 
  • Planetary Habitability – Understanding the processes and conditions that result in habitability, the search and recognition of habitable environments within and beyond our Solar System.
  • Cosmochemistry – probing planetary materials in the laboratory as a means to develop a more detailed, quantitative understanding of solar system history and chronology;
  • Natural resources – exploring for, and studying, natural resources on the Earth and investigating the potential for resource extraction on the Moon and asteroids;

People Involved in this research:

Neil Banerjee - neil.banerjee@uwo.ca
Reasearch Interests:Evidence for early life on Earth; Formation and evolution of oceanic crust; The origin and emplacement of ophiolites.

Shantanu Basu - basu@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Theoretical astrophysics, star formation, planet and brown dwarf formation, circumstellar disk evolution, and computational gas dynamics.

Audrey Bouvier - audrey.bouvier@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Isotope geochemistry and chronometry of planetary materials; origins and evolution of Solar System and planets; development of new cutting edge laboratory techniques for planetary material studies.

Peter Brown - pbrown@uwo.ca
Research Interests: The origin of metoroids, Origin of meteorites, Physical structure of meteoroids, Flux and interaction of larger meteoroids at Earth.

Gordon Osinski - gosinski@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary surface processes, in particular impact cratering; shock processes in earth and planetary materials.

Margaret Campbell-Brown - margaret.campbell@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Meteoroids, particularly the distribution and origin of the sporadic meteoroid complex, and the interaction of meteoroids with the Earth’s atmosphere.

Roberta Flemming - rflemmin@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Mineral behavior, Kimberlite Indicator Minerals, meteorites and Development of micro X-ray diffraction (µXRD) as a tool for geologists.

Phil McCausland - pmccausl@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Paleomagnetism and physical properties of meteorites, for irradiation, magnetization, impact, and atmosphereic entry studies.

Stan Metchev - smetchev@uwo.ca
Research Interests: The formation and evolution of planetary systems, the direct imaging of extrasolar planets, the study of clouds and storms in extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs.

Sean Shieh - sshieh@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Material study under extreme pressure and temperature conditions; Structures and dynamics of the Earth’s and planetary interiors; Characterization of materials.

Bob Sica - sica@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Laser radar (lidar) studies of Earth’s atmosphere. In particular, gravity wave dynamics and water vapor in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.

Phil Stooke - pjstooke@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Cartography, planetary geology, space history.

Livio Tornabene - ltornabe@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary remote sensing (Mars, Moon and Earth), impact cratering as a geologic process, and Martian spectroscopy as it pertains to petrogenesis and evolution (alteration) of the upper crust.

Tony Withers - tony.withers@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Volatile elements in planetary interiors; influence of volatiles on electrical conductivities and viscosities of silicate liquids; trace element partitioning; stable isotope systematics in high pressure systems; thermodynamic properties of minerals, fluids and silicate melts.

Nigel Blamey - nblamey2@uwo.ca

Desmond Moser - desmond.moser@uwo.ca

Sheri Molnar - smolnar8@uwo.ca

Kim Tait - ktait5@uwo.ca

Galactic and Stellar Processes

Artist concept that depicts the tiny planetary system of KOI-961 (NASA).

The properties of the Earth and indeed of all planets are intimately tied to those of their parent stars, and their broader neighbourhood in space. Our own Sun is one of billions of stars in the Milky Way, a galaxy that provides the wider context in which planets form and evolve. A complete understanding of planetary processes is thus dependent upon a clear knowledge of Galactic and Stellar Processes, the fifth research theme of CPSX.

  • Star Formation and birth – stars continue to be born within our galaxy and it is only during the creation of stars that planets can also form
  • Extragalactic star formation– the formation of stars in other galaxies provides insights into the same processes closer to home.
  • Interstellar medium– the clouds of gas between the stars, the interstellar medium, is the birth place of stars and planetary systems.
  • Massive stars– stars with masses much larger than our Sun explode as 'supernovae' at the end of their lives, releasing the heavy elements needed for the formation of the next generation of planets, and completing the ecological cycle of the galaxy. 

People Involved in this research:

Pauline Barmby - pbarmby@uwo.ca
Reasearch Interests: Astroinformatics, observational studies of star formation, and stellar populations in nearby galaxies.

Shantanu Basu - basu@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Theoretical astrophysics, star formation, planet and brown dwarf formation, circumstellar disk evolution, and computational gas dynamics.

Jan Cami - jcami@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Molecular spectroscopy, dust mineralogy in evolved stars and the Diffuse Interstellar Bands (DIBs).

Margaret Campbell-Brown - margaret.campbell@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Meteoroids, particularly the distribution and origin of the sporadic meteoroid complex, and the interaction of meteoroids with the Earth’s atmosphere.

Stan Metchev - smetchev@uwo.ca
Research Interests: The formation and evolution of planetary systems, the direct imaging of extrasolar planets, the study of clouds and storms in extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs.

Aaron Sigut - asigut@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Circumstellar disks around hot stars, classical Be stars, Herbig Ae/Be stars, and non-LTE radiative transfer as applied to precise stellar abundance determinations.

Paul Wiegert - pwiegert@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Dynamics of the Solar System, particularly its smaller bodies, asteroids, comets and meteoroid streams. I’m also interested in the dynamics of planets around other stars, and in celestial mechanics in general.

Space Health

The emerging opportunity for humans to explore space is now reasonable to imagine. Yet, tremendous challenges exist for long-term human experiences in space. These range from the psychological and emotional aspects of exploration and isolation, to biological and physiological challenges related to altered gravity, inactivity, radiation, stress and nutrition, and to clinical diagnostics and treatments.

Research on Space Health also has direct benefits for people on Earth. Long-term space flight health effects are similar to those cause by aging, isolation, or physical factors such as sitting for long periods of time or being inactive. Moreover, we face similar challenges in delivering healthcare on the Moon to remote locations on Earth such as the Canadian Arctic; the solutions we develop for keeping astronauts healthy and alive in space may, therefore, offer solutions to delivering health care to remote parts of Canada.

People Involved in this research:

Natalie Allen - nallen@uwo.ca

Shauna Burke - sburke9@uwo.ca

Blaine Chronik - bchronik@uwo.ca

Cindy Hutnik - chutnik@uwo.ca

Gordon Osinski - gosinski@uwo.ca
Research Interests: Planetary surface processes, in particular impact cratering; shock processes in earth and planetary materials.

Peter Rogan - progan@uwo.ca

Kevin Shoemaker - kshoemak@uwo.ca

Maxwell Smith -maxwell.smith@uwo.ca

Adam Sirek - asirek2@uwo.ca

Space Policy and Law

Research in Earth and space exploration could not be complete without policy and law to determine what future activities will be conducted and how the national and international legal frameworks work within the sector. What political motives drive the governments to invest in space programs? How is the global success of the space sector determined and how well does each country perform in international projects? What laws regular national space activities and how do they differ from other countries? How is outer space security assessed and who governs how outer space resources are used?

People Involved in this research:

Valerie Oosterveld - vooster@uwo.ca

The activities of the Institute will focus on exploring 6 major Questions that are both profound and some of the most challenging of our time:
  • How do planets, stars and galaxies form and evolve?
  • How and when did life originate on Earth and are we alone in the Universe?
  • How can we better monitor our environment in a rapidly changing world?
  • How can we ensure the protection of life on Earth from terrestrial and extraterrestrial threats?
  • How can we facilitate the identification and sustainable extraction of resources on Earth and throughout the solar system?
  • How do we ensure that humans remain healthy and alive in space?
The Institute will promote and support problem- and team-based research in all these Research Themes by developing the following key Interdisciplinary Research Competencies:
  • Remote Science: Investigating objects and places where people can’t go, from the centre of the Earth to distant galaxies; includes observational, theoretical and numerical studies.
  • Contact Science: Investigating samples in situ from the Earth and other objects in the Solar System (i.e., astromaterials), including the necessary laboratory work in support of such science.
  • Autonomous Science: Enabling remote and contact science to be conducted autonomously on Earth and in Space.
  • Exploration Science: The science of human exploration of the Solar System, including the science to enable humans to explore, and survive, as well as the science enabled by human exploration
Furthermore, the Institute will nurture and develop emerging research topics and potential commercial applications of space research at Western within the framework of Earth and Space Exploration such as asteroid mining, human health in space environments, smart agriculture, etc.