Max Coleman

Max Coleman's training combined chemistry, geology and isotope geochemistry at London and Leeds Universities, but he found that he needed to encompass microbiology too when studying sedimentary rocks. He has applied multidisciplinary fundamental scientific research to elicit solutions to practical problems in petroleum exploration and production, environmental pollution, radioactive waste storage and forensic science. He now uses the same approaches to astrobiology research.


After ten years at the British Geological Survey, where he ran a national stable isotope facility, he joined BP to start a new geochemical research group. He then moved to the University of Reading in 1995 as Professor of Sedimentology. Prof. Coleman was enticed to join JPL in 2003, to be Director of the Center for Life Detection and Leader of the Astrobiology Research Group.


He spent a sabbatical period in Paris where he worked on aspects of sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide. He returned to JPL to focus again on astrobiology and especially developing mineral biosignature approaches (and instruments to detect them) and the history and distribution of water in the solar system.


He is a Senior Research Scientist and a Visiting Scientist in GPS at Caltech..



  • B.Sc. Combined Honours, Geology and Chemistry, Univ. of London (1966)
  • M.Sc. Geochemistry (with distinction), Univ. of Leeds (1967)
  • Ph.D. Isotope Geochemistry, Univ. of Leeds (1970)

Research Interests: 

Integration of different relevant scientific disciplines to understand how natural systems work - applied to astrobiology, sedimentary systems, environmental problems, forensic science, oilfield geology etc.

Professional Experience: 
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2000 - present)
    • Appointed Senior Research Scientist 2004
    • Director, JPL Center for Life Detection (2003 - 2005)
    • Distinguished Visiting Scientist (2000-2003)
  • University of Reading (1988-2003)
    • Professor of Sedimentology (1995-2003)
    • Adjunct Professor of Sedimentary Geochemistry (1988-1995)
  • BP Exploration (1983-1995)
    • Manager, Long-term Research and Coordinator of Exploration University Liaison (1992-1995)
    • Head of Inorganic Geochemistry Group
    • Manager, Geochemistry Branch
    • Coordinator, Exploration Corporate Research, BP Research Centre, Sunbury-on-Thames
  • Head of NERC Stable Isotope Facility, Institute of Geological Sciences (now British Geological Survey) London (1973-1983)
  • University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, Post-doctoral Research Fellow (1970-1973)

Selected Awards: 
  • Prestwich Medal of the Geological Society of London - awarded every three years to “persons who shall have done well for the advancement of the science of geology” (2014)
  • Polk-Ralls Medal (2014)

Selected Publications: 

(more than 140 total with an average of 96 citations per paper)

  1. Versteegh EAA, Van Dover CL, Van Audenhaege L, Coleman M (2022) Multiple nutritional strategies of hydrothermal vent shrimp (Rimicaris hybisae) assemblages at the Mid-Cayman Rise. Deep Sea Res. Part 1.
  2. Schieber, J., Bohacs, K. M., Coleman, M., Bish, D., Reed, M. H., Thompson, L., Rapin, W., Yawar, Z. (2022) Mars is a mirror - Understanding the Pahrump Hills mudstones from a perspective of Earth analogues. Sedimentology 69, 2371-2435.
  3. Onstott TC, Ehlmann BL, Sapers H, Coleman M, Ivarsson M, Marlow JJ, Neubeck A and Niles P (2019) Paleo-Rock-Hosted Life on Earth and the Search on Mars: a Review and Strategy for Exploration. Astrobiology 19 1-33. DOI: 10.1089/ast.2018.1960
  4. Theiling B and Coleman M (2019) Paleo-microbial-ecology of the Monterey Formation: implications for Middle Miocene paleoclimatology. Mar. Geol. 413 112-128.
  5. Gluyas J, Thompson L, Allen D, Benton C, Chadwick P, Clark S, Klinger J, Kudryavtsev V, Lincoln D, Maunder B, Mitchell C, Nolan S, Paling S, Spooner N, Staykov L, Telfer S, Woodward D, and Coleman M (2018) Passive, continuous monitoring of carbon dioxide geostorage using muon tomography. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 377: 20180059.
  6. Schieber J, Bish D, Coleman M, Reed M, Hausrath EM, Cosgrove J, Gupta S, Minitti ME, Edgett K, and Malin M (2017) Encounters with an unearthly mudstone: Understanding the first mudstone found on Mars. Sedimentology 64 311–358. DOI: 10.1111/sed.12318
  7. Doglioni C, Pignatti J and Coleman M (2016) The effect of the inner core on life on the surface of the Earth. Geoscience Frontiers 7 865–873. 10.1016/j.gsf.2016.02.001
  8. Allwood AC, Burch IW, Rouchy JM and Coleman ML (2013) Morphological biosignatures in gypsum: Diverse formation processes of Messinian (~6.0 Ma) gypsum stromatolites. Astrobiology 13 870 – 886.   DOI: 10.1089/ast.2013.1021.
  9. German CR Bowen A, Coleman ML, Honig DL, Huber JA, Jakuba MV, Kinsey JC, Kurz MD, Leroy S, McDermott JM, Mercier de Lépinay B, Nakamura K, Seewald JS, Smith JL, Sylva SP, Van Dover CL, Whitcomb LL, and Yoerger DR (2010) Diverse styles of submarine venting on the ultraslow spreading Mid-Cayman Rise. PNAS 107 14020–14025.
  10. Romanek CS, Jiménez-López C, Sahai N and Coleman M (2009) Inorganic synthesis of Fe-Ca-Mg carbonates at low temperature. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 73 5361-5376.
  11. Eggenkamp HGM and Coleman ML (2009) The effect of aqueous diffusion on the fractionation of chlorine and bromine stable isotopes. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 73 3539–3548.
  12. Brunner B, Yu J-Y, Mielke RE and Coleman M (2008) Different chemical and isotopic signatures of pyrite oxidation by Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans during lag and exponential growth phases Earth Planet Sci Let. 270 63-72.
  13. Bada, JL, Ehrenfreund P, Grunthaner F, Blaney D, Coleman M, Farrington A, Yen A Mathies R Amudson R Quinn R Zent A Ride S Barron L Botta O Clark B Glavin D Hofmann B Josset JL Rettberg P Robert F and Sephton M (2008) Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector. Space Sci. Rev.135 269–279.
  14. Christensen LE, Brunner B, Truong KN, Mielke RE, Webster CR and Coleman M (2007) Measurement of sulfur isotope compositions by tunable laser spectroscopy of SO2. Analyt. Chem. 79 9261-9268.   DOI: 10.1021/ac071040p.
  15. Bonifacie M, Jendrzejewski N, Agrinier P, Humler E, Javoy M, and Coleman M (2008) The chlorine isotope composition of Earth’s mantle. Science 319 1518-1520.
  16. Coleman ML, Rodgers DH and Jones JA (2006) A Buoyant Life Investigating Mobile Platform (BLIMP). Advances in Space Research 38 1198-1208.
  17. Coleman M, Ader M, Chaudhuri SK and Coates JD (2003) Microbial isotopic fractionation of perchlorate chlorine. Appl. Env. Microbiology 69 4997-5000.
  18. Eggenkamp HGM & Coleman ML (2000) Rediscovery of classical methods and their application to the measurement of stable bromine isotopes in natural samples. Chem. Geol. 167 393–402
  19. Coleman M (1993) Microbial processes: Controls on the shape and composition of carbonate concretions. Marine Geol. 113 127-140.
  20. Coleman ML, Lovley DR, Hedrick DB, White DC & Pye K (1993) Reduction of Fe(III) in sediments by sulphate reducing bacteria. Nature 361 436-438.
  21. Smalley PC, Maile CN, Coleman ML and Rouse JE (1992) LASSIE (laser ablation sampler for stable isotope extraction. Chem. Geol. (Iso. Geosci. Sect.) 101 43-52 .
  22. Gluyas JG & Coleman ML (1992) Material flux and porosity changes during sediment diagenesis. Nature 356 52-54
  23. Curtis C D, Coleman M L and Love L G (1986) Pore water evolution during sediment burial from isotopic and mineral chemistry of calcite, dolomite and siderite concretions. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 50 2321-2334.
  24. Coleman M L (1985) Geochemistry of diagenetic non-silicate minerals: kinetic considerations. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A315 39-56.
  25. Jackson M J, Jones D A, Edwards R H T, Swainbank I G and Coleman M L (1984) Zinc homeostasis in man: studies using a new stable isotope dilution technique. Brit. J. Nutrition 51 199-208.
  26. Boyce A J, Coleman M L and Russell M J (1983) Formation of fossil hydrothermal chimneys and mounds from Silvermines, Ireland, by reaction of hydrothermal iron with bacteriogenic brine-pool sulphide. Nature 306 545-550.
  27. Benmore R A, Coleman M L and McArthur J M (1983) Origin of sedimentary francolite from its sulphur and carbon isotope composition. Nature 302 516-518.
  28. Harwood G M and Coleman M L (1983) Isotopic evidence of UK Upper Permian mineralization by bacterial reduction of evaporites Nature 301 597-599.
  29. Skirrow R and Coleman M L (1982) Origin of sulphur and geothermometry of hydrothermal sulphides from the Galapagos Rift, 86°W. Nature 299. 142-144.
  30. Coleman M L, Shepherd T J, Durham J J, Rouse J E and Moore G R (1982) Reduction of water with zinc for hydrogen isotope analysis. Anal. Chem. 54 993-995.
  31. Coleman M L and Walker S (1979) Stable isotope identification of Greek and Turkish marbles. Archaeometry 21 107-112.
  32. Coleman M L and Raiswell R (1981) Carbon, oxygen and sulphur isotope variations in concretions from the Upper Lias of N E England. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 45 329-340.
  33. Swart P K and Coleman M L (1980) New isotopic data for scleractinian corals explain their palaeotemperature uncertainties. Nature 282 557-559.
  34. Irwin H, Curtis C and Coleman M (1977) Isotopic evidence for source of diagenetic carbonates formed during burial of organic rich sediments. Nature 269 209-213.
Max Coleman
4800 Oak Grove Dr.
Pasadena, CA 91109
Phone: 818.393.6353
Fax Number: 818.354.0887