Scientific assistant in the “PlAnt Characterization unit for closed life support system –...

Updated: about 1 month ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 15 Oct 2021

Scientific assistant in the “PlAnt Characterization unit for closed life support system – engineering, MANufacturing & testing phase 2” (acronym PACMAN2) project of the European Space Agency

The Group of Plant Nutrition of ETH is recruiting a scientific assistant position in the “PlAnt Characterization unit for closed life support system – engineering, MANufacturing & testing phase 2” (acronym PACMAN2) project of the European Space Agency.

Project background

The European Space Agency’s (ESA ) project “Micro Ecological Life Support System Alternative” (acronym MELiSSA) is a research program aiming to develop an artificial ecosystem for regenerative life support systems for long-term space missions ( ). At the same time, this program is an excellent model for addressing terrestrial challenges such as closing nutrient cycles between food production and consumers. As part of MELiSSA, the ESA has installed at the University of Naples Federico II (Italy) a plant growth facility (the Plant Characterisation Unit, PCU) allowing to grow plants hydroponically in a completely air and watertight system as a model for future space missions.

The project PACMAN2 aims at developing a “root observatory” for crops growing in this PCU. This observatory will be used to describe root growth and activity, including nutrient uptake, and to link root growth to shoot production and final crop yield. The role of ETH will be to prepare and carry out life tests on the modified PCU. We plan to conduct these tests with lettuce under different conditions such as increased salinity in the nutrient solution or decreased nutrient availability to mimic what could happen if the crop was grown with recycled astronaut’s urine.

This work will be done in close cooperation between the Group of Plant Nutrition of ETH, EnginSoft (Italy) a leading engineering software company that has designed the PCU, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS, Norway), and the Department of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Naples Federico II (Italy). In addition, we will work with the University Clermont Auvergne (France).     

Job description

We are looking for a scientific assistant who is highly motivated and has the necessary skills in growing plants in hydroponics and in wet chemistry to plan and carry out tasks both independently and in close cooperation with other teams. The candidate will be required to prepare and carry out life tests on the modified PCU. The candidate will also oversee the administrative tasks linked to ETH activities. The project is planned to start on November 1 2021 and will last till March 31, 2023.

Workplace: The scientific assistant will be based in the Group of Plant Nutrition, Research Station Lindau-Eschikon, ETH Zurich ( ), and will frequently travel to the PCU at the University of Naples Federico II.

Start: 1st of November 2021

Duration: 17 months (100% position)

Additional information: The scientific assistant will be supervised by Professor Dr Emmanuel Frossard and Dr Astrid Oberson from the Group of Plant Nutrition (ETH Zurich). The candidate’s salary will be in accordance with ETH Zurich regulations.

Keywords: MELiSSA, PCU, PACMAN2, plant, hydroponics, urine, phosphorus, nitrogen

Application deadline: October 15th, 2021 (or until a suitable candidate is found)

Project title: PACMAN2

Your profile

Applicants must have received a university degree or equivalent (MSc or similar). A background in one of the following or related disciplines is needed: microbiology, plant physiology, biotechnology, bioengineering or agricultural plant sciences. It is desirable that the candidate has hands on experience in plant cultures, microbiology, and/or molecular methods. It is required that the candidate has an advanced knowledge of written and spoken English.

ETH Zurich

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.


We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • A letter that clearly demonstrates your motivation and suitability for the position
  • A curriculum vitae
  • Full transcripts of your Bachelor and Master degree (or equivalent)
  • A copy of your diploma/MSc thesis
  • Academic certificates
  • Contact information of three referees

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information can be found on our website . Please contact Emmanuel Frossard ( ) for any informal enquiries (no applications).

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. Visit our Equal Opportunities and Diversity website to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.

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