Imperial College London


Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Earth Science & Engineering

Professor of Organic Geochemistry



+44 (0)20 7594 6542m.a.sephton Website




2.34Royal School of MinesSouth Kensington Campus






Organic Geochemistry involves the recognition and interpretation of organic records in planetary settings. Organic structures and their stable isotopic compositions can record chemical evolution in the solar system, the origin of life, habitation of environments and biological evolution over time. Organic compounds are also very sensitive to alteration and post formation changes can be related to thermal, aqueous, radiative and oxidative processing. From  prebiotic chemistry in meteorites, through the many reservoirs of organic molecular fossils on Earth, to the search for evidence of past or present life on Mars, information-rich organic chronicles can be read using modern analytical methods.


  • Professor, Imperial College London 2007 – present
  • Head of Department, Earth Science & Engineering 2016 – 2021
  • Reader, Imperial College London 2005 – 2007
  • Lecturer, Open University 2000 – 2005
  • Post Doc, Open University 1998 – 2000
  • Post Doc, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and University of Utrecht 1996 – 1998
  • PhD, Open University 1993 – 1996
  • MSc, University of Newcastle 1991– 1992
  • BSc, University of Durham 1988 – 1991

Notable Recent ACTIVITIES

Research Interests

  • Missions to Mars
  • Mars Analogue Studies
  • Astrobiology of Icy Moons
  • Planetary Protection
  • Meteorites and their Organic Matter
  • Space Spin-Offs
  • Causes and Consequences of Mass Extinctions
  • Organic Proxies of Environmental Change
  • Organic Molecules in Forensic Science and Biochemistry

Management and Administration

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Tan J, Sephton M, 2020, Organic records of early life on Mars: the role of iron, burial and kinetics on preservation, Astrobiology, Vol:20, ISSN:1531-1074, Pages:53-72

Royle SH, Tan J, Kounaves SP, et al., 2018, Survivability of 1-chloronapthalene during simulated early diagenesis – Implications for chlorinated hydrocarbon detection on Mars, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Vol:123, ISSN:2169-9097, Pages:2790-2802

Sephton MA, Waite JH, Brockwell TG, 2018, How to detect life on icy moons, Astrobiology, Vol:18, ISSN:1531-1074, Pages:843-855

Tan J, Lewis JMT, Sephton MA, 2018, The fate of lipid biosignatures in a Mars-analogue sulfur stream., Scientific Reports, Vol:8, ISSN:2045-2322, Pages:7586-7586

Lewis JMT, Najorka J, Watson JS, et al., 2018, The search for Hesperian organic matter on Mars: Pyrolysis studies of sediments rich in sulfur and iron, Astrobiology, Vol:18, ISSN:1531-1074, Pages:454-464

Schulze-Makuch D, Wagner D, Kounaves SP, et al., 2018, Transitory microbial habitat in the hyperarid Atacama Desert, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol:115, ISSN:0027-8424, Pages:2670-2675

Montgomery W, Sephton MA, Watson JS, et al., 2015, Minimising hydrogen sulphide generation during steam assisted production of heavy oil, Scientific Reports, Vol:5, ISSN:2045-2322

Sephton MA, Jiao D, Engel MH, et al., 2015, Terrestrial acidification during the end-Permian biosphere crisis?, Geology, Vol:43, ISSN:1943-2682, Pages:159-162

Lewis JMT, Watson JS, Najorka J, et al., 2015, Sulfate Minerals: A Problem for the Detection of Organic Compounds on Mars?, Astrobiology, Vol:15, ISSN:1557-8070

Sephton MA, Lewis JMT, Watson JS, et al., 2014, Perchlorate-induced combustion of organic matter with variable molecular weights: Implications for Mars missions, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol:41, ISSN:0094-8276, Pages:7453-7460

Sephton MA, Carter JN, 2014, Statistics Provide Guidance for Indigenous Organic Carbon Detection on Mars Missions, Astrobiology, Vol:14, ISSN:1531-1074, Pages:706-713

Montgomery W, Watson JS, Sephton MA, 2014, An organic cosmo-barometer: Distinct pressure and temperature effects for methyl substituted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Astrophysical Journal, Vol:784, ISSN:0004-637X

Carter JN, Sephton MA, 2013, A Bayesian statistical assessment of representative samples for asteroidal or meteoritical material, Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Vol:48, ISSN:1086-9379, Pages:976-996

Sephton MA, 2013, Aromatic units from the macromolecular material in meteorites: Molecular probes of cosmic environments, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol:107, ISSN:0016-7037, Pages:231-241

Sephton MA, Hazen RM, 2013, On the origins of deep hydrocarbons, Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry, Vol:75, ISSN:1529-6466, Pages:449-465


Sephton MA, 2014, Organic Geochemistry of Meteorites, Treatise on Geochemistry, Editor(s): Turekian, Elsevier Science, Pages:1-31

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