PhD position in Environmental Chemistry - fate and transport of nano- and microplastics

Updated: 3 months ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 12 Apr 2020

The Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-​USYS) at ETH Zurich conducts research and offers studies into the condition and functions of environmental systems. It develops solutions and methods for managing them on a sustainable basis.

Project background

Beyond the attention-grabbing headlines and scientific studies demonstrating the presence of particulate plastic in a vast array of localities, there remain several basic research gaps to understand the dominant processes which distribute plastic around the globe. Many of these research questions stem from the lack of analytical tools which exist to sample and measure particulate plastics in the environment matrices in the field, which also impacts the feasibility of mechanistic processes studies based in the laboratory. By synthesizing our own plastics with an inorganic tracer incorporated into the polymer, this enables us to track particles using standard methods for trace metals analysis as a proxy for the plastics, thereby bypassing some of the analytical pitfalls that has hindered research thus far. 

As part of a larger research project on environmental impacts of nano- and microplastic, this is one of three positions to be filled over the next year founding the group of Environmental Chemistry of Anthropogenic Materials led by Prof. Denise M. Mitrano. Our research focuses on the distribution and impacts of anthropogenic materials in technical and environmental systems, and we are particularly interested in developing analytical tools to understand the fate, transport and biological interactions of particles, such as metal colloids, engineered nanomaterials and microplastics. In this context, we use these results to inform risk assessments of anthropogenic pollutants and propose solutions for sustainable freshwater and soil management. We work as an interdisciplinary team, and the applicant will have the opportunity to be engaged in diverse research projects/collaborations, all while conducting research in state of the art facilities with ample access to analytical equipment. 

Job description

To date, the majority of research on the topic of particulate plastic pollution has been monitoring studies to confirm their presence across multiple environmental compartments. There are comparatively fewer studies which aim to develop a systematic understanding of particulate plastic interactions and processes, which drive fate and transport in the environment. Using the novel metal-doped plastics developed in our lab, key parameters for assessing particulate plastic fate in freshwater ecosystems will be investigated including: aggregation of plastic with natural particles and surfaces, how this affects settling dynamics and further influences on particle transport and deposition.

This project will bring together understanding of colloid behavior in complex environmental media, metals analysis and development of novel analytical techniques. The diverse nature of plastic research will allow the student an opportunity to become more familiar with concepts from environmental science, analytical chemistry, chemical engineering and materials science. In addition, the student will have opportunities for developing their skills in scientific communication through presentations at conferences and writing scientific papers. The position is funded for 4 years. PhD salaries are in accordance with ETH standards .

Your profile

You should hold a MSc degree in environmental science, analytical chemistry, chemistry, environmental engineering or a related field. Previous work with plastic is not necessary, but experience with analyzing particles (nanoparticles, colloids) would be an asset. As the project will involve analytical method development and mechanistic process studies, the ability for independent, organized work is essential. However, teamwork is also important to help support and grow our new lab, which fosters several diverse projects and collaborations. The working language is English, and advanced communication skills in English (oral and written) are expected.

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: motivation letter, CV, short summary of Master's thesis (if already completed), academic transcripts and contact information of 2 – 3 potential references. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email will not be considered. 

Starting date: August 1, 2020 or upon mutual agreement. Application review will begin April 20th, 2020; but will continue until the position is filled. 

For further questions on the advertised position, please contact Prof. Denise M. Mitrano at (no applications).

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