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Professor Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Professor of Atmospheric Physics
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences
  • stephen.lewis

Professional biography

I am Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Deputy Head of the School of Physical Sciences at the Open University. I joined the Open University in 2005, having previously held posts in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Department of Physics, Oxford University. My doctorate was from Oxford University, researching the dynamics of vortices in the atmosphere of Jupiter, such as the famous Great Red Spot, and my first degree was in Natural Sciences from Cambridge Univeristy.

As part of my Open University work, I am the Lead Academic for several high-profile BBC television programmes on the Earth's weather and climate and on planetary science. I am an accredited Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Research interests

My research interests include the dynamics and climate of planetary atmospheres and the interpretation of spacecraft atmospheric observations. Subjects range from the Earth, both now and in the distant past, to Venus and Mars, giant planets and extrasolar planets. At present my primary focus is Mars exploration.

I am Co-Principal Investigator for AMELIA (Atmospheric Mars Entry and Landing Investigation and Analysis) on ESA ExoMars 2016 Schiaparelli and a Co-Investigator for NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) aboard ESA ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter and for MCS (Mars Climate Sounder) aboard NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Past instrument teams include NIMS (Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) on the NASA Galileo mission to Jupiter and PMIRR (Pressure Modulator InfraRed Radiometer, a precursor to MCS).

Teaching interests

Since joining the Open University I have written, taught and chaired Natural Science modules in varied parts of the curriculum, from Electromagnetism to Environmental Science. I have worked as a tutor at residential schools at all levels and helped to develop materials for the online practical science.

I have supervised about twenty postgraduate students on a variety of PhD projects in planetary sciences.

Impact and engagement

Results from my work have been used by both ESA and NASA in planning space missions. My work for ESA involves working with a variety of industrial users who need access to the data that I provide.

I work on an EU Mars data project UPWARDS with a large component of public engagement and collaborators across Europe.

I give outreach talks to schools, societies and science festivals, have appeared on national media and have acted as academic consultant for several BBC series.

External collaborations

As part of various consultancies with spacecraft agencies, I made successful forecasts for Mars Curiosity, which landed in 2012, and am now planning for ExoMars Rover, Mars 2020 and beyond. I have received four NASA Group Achievement Awards for my work on MCS and on Curiosity.

I am on the Editorial Board of the Oxford University Press Research Encyclopaedia of Planetary Science.

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science


Externally funded projects

Characterizing the Martian water cycle by assimilating ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter data

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Oct/201730/Sep/2020UKSA UK Space Agency
This proposal aims to exploit data from the NOMAD instrument aboard the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter. This will be achieved through a combination of computer modelling (on both global and local scales) as well as the assimilation of NOMAD data into these models.

Modelling and retrieval of martian dust, ice and ozone from ExoMars NOMAD data

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Sep/201631/Aug/2020UKSA UK Space Agency
ExoMars TGO Science proposal

Surface Pressure Predictions for Candidate Landing Sites of the Mars 2020 Rover

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Mar/201628/Feb/2018NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
We will provide predictions of surface pressure for all landing sites under consideration for the NASA Mars 2020 Rover. Surface pressure will be derived using a global circulation model with data assimilation (using atmospheric thermal and opacity data from Mars Global Surveyor/Thermal Emission Spectrometer and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter/Mars Climate Sounder), with an additional constraint from Viking Lander pressure measurements. We will validate the results through comparisons with independent measurements of surface pressure, primarily derived from radio occultations but also using Mars Science Laboratory/Rover Environmental Monitoring Station. We performed the same task previously in support of Mars Science Laboratory entry, descent and landing in Gale Crater, where our predictions achieved an accuracy of ~1%.

Mars Modelling Information Tool for Engineering

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Jan/201530/Jun/2017ESA (European Space Agency)
Development of Mars global atmospheric and surface models and a software interface to make their output more easily accessible for mission planning and engineering tasks.

(Aurora Studentship) Martian Regional Dust Storms: Implications for Entry, Descent and Landing

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Oct/201431/Mar/2018UKSA UK Space Agency
This grant supports a PhD studentship to perform atmospheric global and mesoscale modelling studies of small and medium scale dust events with relevance to ExoMars EDM and Rover entry, descent and landings. The student will investigate the behaviour of dust lifting parameterizations in the models that simulate the effect of small, convective vortices (dust devils) and lifting by large-scale near surface wind stress. The dependence on both local time of day, time of year and model resolution will be investigated. Results will be validated against past spacecraft entry, descent and landing data, with the aim of making improved predictions for future events.

Extension And Validation Of Mars Atmospheric And Dust Models EXTENSION (SP-12-040-SL)

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Sep/201431/Mar/2015ESA (European Space Agency)
Development of Mars global atmospheric and surface models and a software interface to make their output more easily accessible for mission planning and engineering tasks.

Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at the Open University

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Apr/201431/Mar/2017STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council
The aim of our programme in Astronomy & Planetary Science at the Open University (APSOU) is to carryout detailed investigations of the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planets with a special emphasis on our own Solar System through a combination of observation, simulation, laboratory analysis and theoretical modelling. Our research is divided into two broad areas, reflecting the historical research strengths. This research programme is well-matched to both nationally- and internationally-agreed research imperatives. In its final report, A Science Vision for European Astronomy2, Astronet’s Science Working Group identified four broad areas of strategic importance; our research covers major topics within each of these areas. APSOU projects also map onto two of the four Science Challenges that form STFC’s Road Map3 for science (‘How did the universe begin and how is it evolving?’ and ‘How do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet?’). The present APSOU programme comprises 20 projects (labelled A to T), of which 6 are for consideration by the Astronomy Observation (AO) panel, 1 for Astronomy Theory (AT), and 13 for the Planetary Studies (PL) panel. The AO projects cover the breadth of the 7 themes recognised as UK strengths in the report of STFC’s Astronomy Advisory Panel (AAP), whilst the 13 PL projects are directed towards answering questions raised in two of the three themes identified as UK strengths in the roadmap of STFC’s Solar System Advisory Panel (SSAP)4.

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