Edinburgh Research Explorer

Sean McMahon

Chancellors Fellow - Extreme Conditions / Astrobiology

Profile photo

Research Interests

How does planet Earth interact with its living biosphere over billions of years? My research explores how geological materials (rocks, minerals and sediments) select, shape and sustain communities of organisms, and how organisms in turn produce, degrade and modify rocky substrates to leave lasting traces in the geological record. The study of these interactions (geobiology) deepens our understanding of where we come from and enhances our ability to search for life elsewhere in the universe.

A particular focus of my current work is the deep biosphere, one of Earth's largest microbial biomes, which encompasses subseafloor and subterranean rocks and sediments. As a Marie Curie-Skłodowska Fellow, my work aims to understand:
  (1) the geological history of the deep biosphere in relation to the rest of the Earth–Life system;
  (2) the fossil and geochemical record of deep life;
  (3) controls on the habitability of subsurface environments and their potential to preserve fossils;
  (4) whether these habitats and fossils tell us anything useful in the search for life on Mars.

An additional focus of recent years has been experimental taphonomy: the attempt to understand the processes that allow fossils to form by replicating them under controlled conditions in the laboratory. These processes intimately involve microbes, which can help explain how soft-bodied animal tissues and plants are able to be preserved.


2017- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship (D-BIOME), University of Edinburgh, UK

2014-2017 Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University, USA

2010-2014 PhD Geology, University of Aberdeen, UK

2006-2010 MEarthSci, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, UK

ID: 47885634