Cara Wells

University of Leicester


Melt fragmentation during giant impact events: a volcanological approach


  • Prof Mike Branney (University of Leicester)
  • Prof Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Tiffany Barry (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Lutz Hecht (Freie Universität, Berlin)
  • Prof Kathy Cashman (University of Bristol)

PhD Summary

Giant meteorite impacts have occurred throughout the history of Earth and are fundamental in planetary evolution. These impacts form craters 10 to > 100 km across and in doing so deposit regional ejecta blankets and global fallout layers. Melt bearing impact deposits, known as “suevite”, contain shocked target lithologies, minerals, and fragments of chilled melt that can provide valuable information about the events that occurred during the impact.
The PhD project will focus in on these melt fragments within the suevite and use volcanological techniques employed to study explosive volcanic eruptions to gain a further understanding of the fragmentation processes during giant impact events. The research will use SEM and optical microscopy to produce images of the melt fragments and use further image analysis to quantify the range of shapes and vesicularities.
This project will compare the morphology of these fragments across different impact craters and in addition to this, compare impact melt fragments to pyroclasts from well studied explosive volcanic eruptions. This research will shed a new light on the fragmentation processes during impacts and provide further data to constrain existing impact models.

What inspires you

I have always been interested in the natural world and living in Scotland I have had the privilege of growing up with a wide range of landscapes and natural environments on my doorstep. From a young age I have always loved being outdoors and spent a lot of time on the beach collecting rocks and fossils! Seeing other countries around the world has only inspired me further to study and understand more about the landscapes around us.

Previous activity

Prior to studying geology I undertook a BSc in Psychology at the University of Dundee. I subsequently started at the University of Leicester studying an integrated masters degree (MGeol) in Geology.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I had my first opportunity to undertake independent research in my BSc at the University of Dundee and since then have been passionate about continuing to do research beyond undergraduate. Studying at Leicester provided me with even more opportunities to undertake research and this inspired me to pursue doctoral research in the field of geology with my masters project leading me to this PhD,

Why did you choose CENTA?

I was interested in a CENTA studentship not only for the funding to undertake the ideal PhD project, but also the opportunities and additional training across a range of subjects that will be incredibly beneficial for a future career in science.

Future plans

I intend to continue with research after my PhD, building upon the skills and opportunities that I will gain from being a NERC CENTA student.