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Dr Claire Nichols

Associate Professor of the Geology of Planetary Processes

I use the magnetic signals recorded by rocks to understand Earth and planetary formation, the environment of early Earth and planetary habitability. Earth has undergone billions of years of complex physical and chemical evolution leaving many questions about its earliest history unresolved. I look at the magnetic signals preserved by ancient rocks from Earth, the Moon and meteorites to gain insight as to how our solar system and planet formed and how life subsequently emerged. I combine synchrotron and electron microscopy techniques with rock magnetism, palaeomagnetism and fieldwork in an attempt to understand planetary formation and Earth’s earliest history.
My current research includes examining the magnetic signals in banded iron formations – a type of ancient marine sediment – to understand how these large deposits formed when Earth had less oxygen in its atmosphere. I am also studying samples collected from the lunar Apollo missions, with a particular interest in recovering oriented information about the Moon’s ancient magnetic field geometry and developing sampling approaches for future crewed missions to the Moon. Other current research projects include investigating iron and stony-iron meteorites, particularly the pallasites, to understand early interactions between planetesimals (planetary building blocks).

I joined St Hugh’s College and the Department of Earth Sciences in 2020 as Associate Professor of the Geology of Planetary Processes. Before that, I was a ‘Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life’ postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I studied ancient planetary magnetic fields in order to understand whether they play an important role in planetary habitability. My PhD from the University of Cambridge (2017) examined the nanoscale magnetic properties of meteorites to recover ancient records of internally-generated planetesimal magnetic fields. Before my PhD I completed an MSci in Natural Sciences (Physical) at the University of Cambridge (2014), specializing in Earth Sciences.

M.J. Zawaski, N.M. Kelly, O. F. Orlandini, C.I.O. Nichols, A.C. Allwood, S.J. Mojzsis “Reply: The Isua (Greenland) “relict stromatolites” cannot be confidently interpreted as original sedimentary structures” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2021.
C.R. Martin, O. Jagoutz. R. Upadhyay, L.H. Royden, M.P. Eddy, E.E. Bailey, C.I.O. Nichols, B.P. Weiss “Paleocene latitude of the Kohistan–Ladakh arc indicates multistage India–Eurasia collision” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, pp 1-8, 2020.
M.J. Zawaski, N.M. Kelly, O. F. Orlandini, C.I.O. Nichols, A.C. Allwood, S.J. Mojzsis “Reappraisal of purported ca. 3.7 Ga stromatolites from the Isua Supracrustal Belt (West Greenland) from detailed chemical and structural analysis” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 545, pp 1-14, 2020.
C.I.O. Nichols, J.F.J. Bryson, R. Blukis, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, R. Rueffer, A.I. Chumakov, R.J. Harrison “Variations in the magnetic properties of meteoritic cloudy zone,” Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 21, pp. 1-14, 2020.
S. Mighani, H. Wang, D.L. Shuster, C.S. Borlina, C.I.O. Nichols, B.P. Weiss “The End of the Lunar Dynamo,” Science Advances, vol. 6, no.1, pp. 1-8, 2020.
C.I.O. Nichols, J. Einsle, M-Y. Im, T. Kasama, Z. Saghi, P.A. Midgley, R.J. Harrison “Field-response of magnetic vortices in dusty olivine from the Semarkona chondrite,” Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 20, pp. 1-13, 2019.
C.I.O. Nichols, R. Krakow, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, G. Northwood-Smith, R.J. Harrison “Microstructural and Paleomagnetic Insight into the Formation and Impact History of the IAB Parent Body,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 229, pp. 1-19, 2018.
R.J. Harrison, J.F.J. Bryson, C.I.O. Nichols, B.P. Weiss, “Magnetic Mineralogy of Meteoritic Metal: Paleomagnetic Evidence for Dynamo Activity on Differentiated Planetesimals,” In Planetesimals, Cambridge University Press, ch. 10, pp. 204-222, 2017.
C.I.O. Nichols, J.F.J. Bryson, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, F. Nimmo and R.J. Harrison, “Pallasite paleomagnetism: Quiescence of a core dynamo,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 441, pp. 103-112, 2016.
J.F.J. Bryson, C.I.O. Nichols, J. Herrero-Albillos, F. Kronast, T. Kasama, H. Alimadadi, G. van der Laan, F. Nimmo and R.J. Harrison, “Long-lived magnetism from solidification-driven convection on the pallasite parent body,” Nature, vol. 517, pp. 472-475, 2015.

Associate Professor of the Geology of Planetary Processes
Earth Sciences
Academic - Fellows & Lecturers