PhD for proxy development – lipid biomarkers 100%, Zurich, fixed-term:

The Earth Ecosystem Dynamics Group (Geological Institute, Department of Earth Sciences) is looking for a highly motivated PhD student with an interest in past environmental changes, soil chemistry and organic geochemistry, to work on developing lipid-based proxies for soil fertility (defined here as the concentration of exchangeable cations). Your research will be part of the funded SNSF starting grant research project ROOTS (PI: Dr Cindy De Jonge): “Reconstructing soil fertility across Time and Space”.

Project background: Currently, soils store a large fraction of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. However, whether they will continue to do so in the future is unclear, as soil fertility potentially limits the amount of primary production (carbon fixation) and belowground carbon storage.

Current experimental approaches reveal a complex interaction between the above- and belowground ecosystem, and its chemical environment. A historical perspective, i.e. looking at past changes in soil fertility and carbon storage, can elucidate these processes on timescales that exceed experimental approaches (decades to millennia).

While changes in atmospheric CO2 and climate are well constrained using a combination of direct measurements and estimates based on proxies, we currently have no methods to reconstruct soil fertility through time. In this project, you will develop biomarker lipid proxies that allow quantifying soil mineral fertility, building on current research that highlights the dependency of GDGT lipids on major soil exchangeable cations: free hydrogen, exchangeable calcium and exchangeable iron.

Job description

During this PhD project, you will learn to apply state-of-the-art analytical techniques and research concepts that cross scientific boundaries. You will also present at national and international conferences, and write peer-reviewed publications and a PhD thesis. The research training addresses field, numerical, statistical and laboratory skills, equipping the student for a career across a range of professions.

Your profile

  • You should have a relevant MSc degree (i.e., earth sciences, environmental sciences).
  • You should be able to outline experience in organic geochemistry or other lab-based analytical methods and be interested in applying statistical approaches to develop calibrations and generate environmental reconstructions through time.
  • You should have a keen interest in working in an international and interdisciplinary scientific environment.
  • Ideally, you should also demonstrate previous fieldwork experience, as brief field campaigns within Europe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are planned to recover soil cores and soil surface samples (~1-2 weeks each).
  • Good oral and written communication skills in English are expected to be obtained during the position.

We offer

We offer a fully funded four-year PhD that will start in the summer of 2023 (latest: 01/11/2023), under the mentorship of Dr Cindy De Jonge (supported by a doctoral committee).

We value diversity

In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected.

Curious? So are we.

We are looking forward to receiving your online application with the following documents by May 15th 2023: 

  • a curriculum vitae (max: 2 pages) that includes contact details (not letters) of 2 references, and
  • a motivation letter for this specific position, indicating specifically how you fill the requirements for this position that are outlined under “Your Profile” (max: 2 pages).

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted before May 31st 2023, followed by online interviews, and a potential visit to ETH Zurich in June/July. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Dr. Cindy De Jonge by email at (no applications).

Apply online now

About ETH Zürich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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