Are you a future researcher passionate to develop soft and biodegradable sensing technologies, integrating biodegradable sensors with soft sensing principles through innovative data fusion, mapping of within-field variability prior to control of agricultural resources for precision and sustainable agri-food production? Do you want to contribute to research on eco-smart precision farming in agri-food production system?

The Agricultural Biosystems Engineering group at Wageningen University is looking for a PhD researcher you will work in Soft and Biodegradable Sensing Technologies for Agri-Food Production should investigate novel biodegradable and soft sensors for monitoring and mapping within-field soil moisture and N dynamics.

Precision application of fertilizer and irrigation are two major management approaches to combat challenges in agricultural production due to population growth, climate change, resource depletion, and soil degradation. Real-time and high-resolution monitoring of soil moisture and nitrogen (N) contents can help in making informed management decisions, while soil moisture and N are likely to be the most dynamic properties changes frequently both in time and space.

By distributing a dense network of biodegradable sensors, it is possible to monitor soil moisture and N status and their dynamics without leaving e-waste unlike traditional soil sensors. However, biodegradable sensing technology is still in its infancy, opening huge research opportunities related to sensor biodegradability, stability, and data reliability, spatial and temporal limit of detection, sensors sensitivity under various soil and cropping environments.

As a PhD candidate, your work will involve the selection, calibration, and verification of suitable sensing principles to ensure accurate and continuous monitoring of soil moisture and N in real field conditions.

Specific focus of your research will be on investigating the novel biodegradable sensor’s performance (reliability, biodegradability, limit of detection etc.) and compare these against traditional sensors with respect to the measurement accuracy, spatial-temporal resolution, and environmental consequences.

Your research will involve evaluating sensors at both field and laboratory environments under different crops and soil environments, and thus, provide feedback in optimizing sensing principles and design. By undertaking this PhD program, you will closely collaborate with colleagues from Dutch Technical Universities active in biodegradable sensing, wireless networks and autonomous control systems within the 4TU Green Sensors project led by the Agricultural Biosystems Engineering Group of Wageningen University & Research. In this way you will make advancements in the field of environmentally friendly sensing technologies for agriculture.

In a rich multi-disciplinary setting, you will be mainly co-supervised by assistant professor Dr. Congcong Sun, while professor Eldert van Henten will be your promotor and will guide you through your scientific training.

Your qualitiesThe ideal candidate must have the following qualities:

  • A PhD with a MSc degree in Agricultural and biosystems engineering, Farm mechatronics, Agronomy, Soil sciences, or a related discipline;
  • Interest in both domains of sensing and modeling as well as soil and crop science of research;
  • Knowledge in soil sensing, data mining and crop growth models and programming skills (e.g. Python) or experience in conducting open field experiments, e.g., sensor installation and data collection would be a plus;
  • A proven ability to think conceptually and creative in idea developments;
  • You are happy to contribute to completing project related tasks e.g., reporting and documentations.
  • Good command on academic writing and willing to publish in high-quality journals.
  • Confident to work with new colleagues within and outside your research team and project partners.
  • Meet all the entry requirements of the WUR PhD program
  • Excellent communication skills as well as good proficiency in English (both oral and written).

For this position your command of the English language is expected to be at C1 level. Sometimes it is necessary to submit an internationally recognised Certificate of Proficiency in the English Language.

We offer you

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:

  • study leave, and partially paid parental leave;
  • working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
  • the option to accrue additional compensation / holiday hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
  • there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
  • a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team.

The gross salary for the first year is € 2.541,- per month rising to € 3.247,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreements for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) (scale P). This is based on a full-time working week of 38 hours.

We offer a temporary contract for 18 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well. There are plenty of options for personal initiative in a learning environment, and we provide excellent training opportunities. We are offering a unique position in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “ Best University ” in the Netherlands for the 18th consecutive time.

Coming from abroad: Wageningen University & Research is the university and research centre for life sciences. The themes we deal with are relevant to everyone around the world and Wageningen, therefore, has a large international community and a lot to offer to international employees. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family. Feeling welcome also has everything to do with being well informed.

Wageningen University & Research’s International Community page contains practical information about what we can do to support international employees and students coming to Wageningen. Furthermore, we can assist you with any additional advice and information about helping your partner to find a job, housing, schooling. For instance under the “30% rule”, certain categories of international staff can receive tax exemption on approximately 30% of their gross salary.

Do you want more information? For more information about this function, please contact Congcong Sun, Ass. Professors, by e-mail: For more information about the procedure, please contact

Do you want to apply? You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval.

This vacancy will be listed up to and including 2 October 2023. We hope to schedule the first job interviews before the end of September. In this first round please only send your resume and motivation letter. Any other documents will not be taken into consideration at this stage.

Equal opportunities: Wageningen University & Research (WUR) employs a large number of people with very different backgrounds and qualities, who inspire and motivate each other. We want every talent to feel at home in our organisation and be offered the same career opportunities. We therefore especially welcome applications from people who are underrepresented at WUR. A good example of how WUR deals with inclusiveness can be read on the page working at WUR with a functional impairment.

Wageningen University & Research:

The mission of Wageningen University & Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 7,200 employees (6,400 fte) and 13,200 students and over 150.000 participants to WUR’s Life Long Learning, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. The unique Wageningen approach lies in its integrated approach to issues and the collaboration between different disciplines.

The Agricultural Biosystems Engineering group is one of the world’s leading university groups on the application of control and artificial intelligence in agriculture. The Agricultural Biosystem Engineering group aims at enhancing, exploiting and disseminating technology in primary agricultural production processes in order to fulfil the needs of mankind and nature in a sustainable way.

Though we address questions and challenges arising in agricultural practice, our scientific based engineering enquiries stay at the more fundamental Technology Readiness Levels. We aim to develop and apply advanced sensing, perception and control methodologies to improve the operation of agricultural production processes and our understanding thereof.

You will become a member of a group of 20 research and education staff, over 50 PhD students and around 60 thesis students. The group is also a leading contributor to the Bsc and MSc programmes of Biosystems Engineering at Wageningen University.

Apply now

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