Doctoral student position in plant nutrition and isotope geochemistry

Updated: 3 months ago
Job Type: Permanent

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100%, Zurich, fixed-term

ETH’s Group of Plant Nutrition studies dynamics of nutrients and contaminants in agroecosystems to contribute to a sustainable agriculture that produces crops of high nutritional quality. We have a long-standing experience in isotope applications to trace sources and processes of nutrients and contaminants in soil-plant systems.


Project background

The objective of the PhD project is to advance the understanding of the role of chelating thiol compounds, in particular metallothioneins (MTs) and phytochelatins (PCs), for the separation of the trace metals cadmium and zinc in plants at Cd levels that are not critical for plants, but for human nutrition (acronym: IsoThiolPrint). To this end, we will use a set of chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques to identify cadmium and zinc complexes with MT and PC ligands and natural variations of cadmium and zinc isotope ratios in plants. The latter is a novel approach that contains a marked ‘isotope fingerprint’ that can be potentially used to identify the function of chelating thiols for the separation of cadmium and zinc in plants. We will systematically explore the use of cadmium and zinc isotope ratios in plants by increasing the level of complexity of the studied systems and by combining isotope analyses with speciation analyses. The project will be mostly conducted at ETH’s Research Station for Plant Sciences and complemented with work in partner laboratories of the COST-ACTION PLANTMETALS located at the University of Zurich, University Grenoble-Alpes, and the Czech Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice.


Job description

You will conduct full cycles of individual research projects from detailed planning of the experiments to data acquisition and manuscript writing.

For the foreseen research project, you will:

  • Set-up detailed experimental plans
  • Conduct yeast and plant growth experiments
  • Conduct sorption experiments
  • Conduct wet chemistry laboratory work
  • Analyze samples to obtain concentration (ICP-MS), speciation (chromatographic and spectroscopic), and isotope ratios (MC-ICPMS)
  • Comprehensively review literature and write manuscripts
  • Organize meetings with collaborators and supervisors

Your profile

The Group of Plant Nutrition of ETH is looking for an outstanding and highly motivated doctoral student.

Essential experience, skills, and characteristics:

  • A relevant MSc diploma in environmental science, earth science, plant science, geology, geography, agronomy or equivalent with specialization towards soil-plant biogeochemistry
  • Trained and experienced in wet chemistry laboratories
  • Trained and experienced for concentration analyses of nutrients and contaminants in plant, water, soil samples or equivalent
  • Advanced knowledge in written and spoken English
  • Strong team work and communication skills
  • Motivated to work interdisciplinary with collaborators with distinct scientific backgrounds
  • Smart working style, critical thinking, and working with humor

Desirable criteria (not required, but appreciated):

  • Basic knowledge in isotope geochemistry, plant physiology, or inorganic chemistry
  • Experience with metal isotope sample preparation
  • Experience with liquid chromatography (LC-ICPMS) or synchrotron techniques (XANES)

We offer

You will be part of an international and collaborative research and PhD team that frequently meets for scientific exchange and facilitates your integration at ETH and into the Group of Plant Nutrition. For the entire PhD, you will receive support from the supervisors, members of the Group of Plant Nutrition, and the project collaborators. Particularly, we offer:

  • Frequent meetings with the supervisors and collaborators to schedule and plan experiments
  • Access to state-of-the-art analytical instruments and laboratories
  • Hands-on training in the laboratory and for data analyses
  • Technical support in the greenhouse and in the laboratory
  • Training for data analyses and data evaluation skills
  • Support and training for manuscript writing
  • Support for project administration
  • Frequent opportunities to develop your communications skills by giving scientific talks in seminars of the Group of Plant Nutrition, in the collaborating groups, and at scientific conferences
  • The chance to expand your knowledge on isotope geochemistry and plant nutrition by visiting MSc courses at ETH and to expand your transferable skills by profiting from ETH’s educational program for employees
  • Opportunities to develop your supervision and teaching skills

Further details:

  • Duration: the project is funded for 4 years (100% position)
  • The main supervisor of the doctoral student will be Dr Matthias Wiggenhauser (ETH Zurich) while the examiner of the doctoral thesis will be Prof Dr Emmanuel Frossard (ETH Zurich). The project partners are Prof Eva Freisinger (University of Zurich), Prof Hendrik Küpper (Czech Academy of Sciences), and Dr Géraldine Sarret (CNRS, University Grenoble-Alpes)
  • Start: 1st of May 2022
  • Salary according to ETH’s pay scale

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.

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