Dr Natasha Stephen

Dr Natasha Stephen

Director of Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC)

Faculty of Science and Engineering


Natasha Stephen is Director of Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC), a flagship £5 million analytical facility in the heart of the University of Plymouth's main city centre campus, housing SEMs, TEM & FIB-SEM, along with full specimen-preparation and post-processing facilities. She is also Project Director for the Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project within PEMC; a £1.7 million EU-funded research project that links academics with industry within the South-West of England. 

Natasha is also a lecturer in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, within which she teaches on several undergraduate and graduate courses, in addition to supervision of MGeol, MRes and PhD students. Her research focuses on the use of non-destructive analytical techniques to investigate meteorites; rocks that originate on the surface of other extra-terrestrial bodies, including the Moon, Mars and asteroids. Natasha came to the University of Plymouth in autumn of 2014 after completing her PhD in Planetary Geology at the Natural History Museum and Imperial College London. 


Post-Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP): Plymouth University (2015)

PhD in Planetary Geology: Imperial College London & Natural History Museum (2015)

MSci Geosciences: Royal Holloway, University of London (2009)

Professional membership

Natasha is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Microscopical Society and the Higher Education Academy. She is a member of the Meteoritical Society, Electron Microscopy UK, and the UK Planetary Forum. 

Roles on external bodies

Natasha is a committee member on the following external bodies;

Teaching interests

General Teaching Responsibilities:
  • GEOL 1001 - The Dynamic Earth
    • Joint with PGG 1001 - Physical Geography & Geology Interactions
  • GEOL 2003 - Geospatial Techinques
  • GEOL 2007 - Landscape Evolution
  • GEOL 3007 - Igneous & Volcanic Processes
  • GEOL 3008 - Advanced Geological Fieldwork (Almeria, Spain)
  • GEOL 3009 - Earth Science Professional Case Studies
  • CHM 3006 -  Advanced Physical & Analytical Chemistry
  • GEOL 5001 - Geoscience Frontiers: Research & Communication
  • GEOL 5003 - Advanced Analytical Skills
  • GEOL 5004 - MGeol Research Project

Research interests

Natasha's research focuses on the use of meteorites, rocks naturally delivered to Earth from Mars, the Moon and asteroids, to study the geology of extra-terrestrial bodies throughout the Solar System and links these up to the space missions studying these bodies from afar. These astromaterials are a finite resource; scientists can never be quite sure when the next meteorite will strike therefore it is important that research using meteoritic samples preserves them for future study. As such, Natasha employs a range of non-destructive analytical techniques within the University’s Electron Microscopy Centre on campus to look inside the rocks using X-rays to determine their composition and crystal structure, as well as infra-red spectroscopy to help link these observations to satellite and rover missions throughout the Solar System.
Whilst the search for life on Mars is one of the key driving forces behind Martian rover exploration (e.g. Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory), Natasha’s research instead focuses on the geological evolution of Mars, alongside other volcanic regions in the Solar System, in order to determine their histories and relevance to Earth’s future.

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

MGeol Students:
  • Jennifer Mitchell
    • Monomict Eucrites: a comparative petrology from scanning electron microscopy
  • Andrew Whyte
    • The analysis of morphology & geochemistry of LL Chondrites, and their comparison to Asteroid Itokawa
  • Philip Hallam
    • Remote investigations of Mars; analysis of recently imaged craters
  • James Roberts
    • GIS analysis of Mars 2020 candidate landing sites using openly available data
  • Catherine Woolford
    • Using meteorites as a ground-truth for geological activity on Vesta; a spectroscopic study
  • Luke Silezin
    • Geochemical characterisation of basaltic volcanism in the Solar System
  • Jake Graves
    • Investigating the volcanic history of Mars; can the Shergottite meteorites all originate from just one impact crater?
  • Sean Batter
    • Will the new Mars rovers (Mars 2020 & ExoMars) help determine potential source regions for the Martian meteorites

MRes Students: 
  • Matthew Norton (School of Marine & Biological Sciences)
    • Are the effects of ocean acidification on shell growth and ultrastructure of Mytilus sp. affected by fluctuations in pH and elevation in temperature?

Grants & contracts

Research Grants:

  • Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project (PMCP), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)    
    • Value of award: £1,714,295 
    • Awarded July 2017
  • Investigating the Martian crust using the brecciated Martian meteorites, Paneth Meteorite Trust, Royal Astronomical Society 
    • Value of award: £1,160 
    • Awarded July 2017
  • Extracting phase-spectra from meteorites relevant to the DAWN mission; defining a new database, Paneth Meteorite Trust, Royal Astronomical Society
    • Value of award: £1,280 
    • Awarded June 2016

Outreach & Education Grants:
  • BioChemical Society; development of EM outreach activities to tackle KS4 & A-Level visits to the EM Centre
    • Value of award: £1,000 
    • Awarded October 2016
  • Royal Astronomical Society; development of a planetary science workshop as part of Girls into Geoscience at the University of Plymouth
    • Value of award: £450 
    • Awarded July 2016

Key publications are highlighted

Giles S, Jackson C & Stephen N 2020 'Barriers to fieldwork in undergraduate geoscience degrees' Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 1, (2) 77-78 , DOI PEARL
MacArthur JL, Bridges JC, Hicks LJ, Burgess R, Joy KH, Branney MJ, Hansford GM, Baker SH, Schwenzer SP & Gurman SJ 2018 'Mineralogical constraints on the thermal history of martian regolith breccia Northwest Africa 8114' Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 246, 267-298 , DOI PEARL
King AJ, Schofield PF, Stephen NR, Frogley MD, Cinque G & Russell SS 2018 'Investigating the history of volatiles in the solar system using synchrotron infrared micro-spectroscopy' Infrared Physics and Technology 94, 244-249 , DOI PEARL
Berry AJ, Schofield PF, Kravtsova AN, Miller LA, Stephen NR, Walker AM, Soldatov AV, Ireland TR, Geraki K & Mosselmans JFW 2017 'The limitations of hibonite as a single-mineral oxybarometer for early solar system processes' Chemical Geology , DOI PEARL
Michalski JR, Cuadros J, Bishop JL, Darby Dyar M, Dekov V & Fiore S 2015 'Constraints on the crystal-chemistry of Fe/Mg-rich smectitic clays on Mars and links to global alteration trends' Earth and Planetary Science Letters 427, 215-225 , DOI
Conference Papers
Mitchell JT & Stephen NR 2016 'REVISITING NWA 3141, 8266, AND 8594: TWO EUCRITES AND A HOWARDITE?' 1-/-0/1900 1-/-0/1900 A464-A464 PEARL
Stephen NR 2016 'Spatially resolved mid-IR spectra from Meteorites; Linking composition, crystallographic Orientation & Spectra on the micro-scale' 79th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society Berlin, Germany 8-/-0/2016 8-/-0/2016 PEARL
Stephen NR, Schofield PF & Berry AJ 2014 'MID-IR MAPPING OF MARTIAN METEORITES WITH 8 MICRON SPATIAL RESOLUTION' 1-/-0/1900 1-/-0/1900 A381-A381
Palasse L, Goran D, Stephen NR, Schwager T, Berlin J & Salge T 2012 'ADVANCES IN EBSD TECHNOLOGY: A POWERFUL METHOD FOR THE ANALYSIS OF IMPACTITES AND METEORITES' 1-/-0/1900 1-/-0/1900 A308-A308
Stephen NR, Genge M & Russell S 2012 'THE TISSINT METEORITE: A PRISTINE AND UNIQUE SAMPLE OF THE MARTIAN SUB-SURFACE?' 1-/-0/1900 1-/-0/1900 A359-A359
Stephen NR, Benedix GK & Bland PA 2011 'EXTRACTING PYROXENE MINERAL SPECTRA FROM MARTIAN METEORITES' 1-/-0/1900 1-/-0/1900 A223-A223

Other academic activities

Public Engagement & Outreach:

  • 'Diversity in Space Careers' (DISC) 2018 panel member. Event organised by SpaceCareers.co.uk & UKSEDS, and hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society, London      
  • ITV News, West Country, interviewed as an expert in space & planetary sciences, discussing the announcement of UK Government funding for horizontal & vertical space launches in Scotland and Cornwall
  • 'Girls into Geoscience' workshop on Planetary Geology, introducing meteorite specimens in a classroom environment, hosted by the University of Plymouth
  • 'Celebrating Diversity in Science; Hidden Figures' film screening as part of British Science Week 2018, sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 'International Women's Day 2018' invited speaker for celebration event at the Royal Astronomical Society, London
  • BBC News, London Studies, interviewed as an expert in space & planetary sciences, discussing the announcement of new UK Government funding to upgrade Goonhilly Earth Station's largest dish
  • European Commission (EC), promotional video generated by the European Union to advertise the successful EU-funded projects across the UK to young adults throughout Europe
  • BBC Breakfast, Goonhilly Earth Station, Cornwall; interviewed as an expert in Planetary Science, surrounding the UK Government announcement of a Space Policy and UK Space Ports

  • BBC Radio Devon, expert interview discussing the recent discovery of water on Mars, March 2016
  • First Geologist of the Moon: Geological Society of London & Royal Astronomical Society (co-convener & scientific adviser for a re-imagining of the original Geological Society address from Dr Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt on his expedition to the Lunar surface as part of Apollo 17)
  • Space, Planets & Meteorites: Diamond Light Source (Public open-house event at the Harwell Science & Innovation campus in Oxfordshire, UK seeing >2000 visitors over the course of the day)
  • Science in its purest form: Diamond Light Source (Interviewed by request from Diamond Light Source for a promotional video celebrating the science conducted at Diamond Light Source,the UK Synchrotron)  
  • 50 years of Martian Exploration’, Plymouth Astronomical Society (Invited talk by local astronomical society to celebrate 50 years of successful Martian exploration)
  • Children’s University: Plymouth (invited talk ‘Exploring the Solar System’ as part of a nationally recognised program encouraging school children to engage in extra-curricular activities in a variety of subjects)
  • Stargazing Live: Diamond Light Source (invited expert speaker for stargazing event at Diamond Light Source, the UK Synchrotron aimed at engaging the public with space science)