PhD position in Mechanobiology on the role of the extracellular matrix in signal transduction

Updated: 14 days ago
Job Type: Permanent

100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology team is recruiting a full-time (100%) doctoral candidate, to work on the role of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in signal transduction.

Our team works on (i) advancing our understanding of mechanotransduction in 3D, (ii) designing hydrogel-based 3D scaffolds with tunable properties, and (iii) using these to design 3D disease models and drug screening platforms, with a focus on skin tissue models.

We are embedded within the Tibbitt group, in the Macromolecular Engineering Laboratory  at the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering at ETH Zurich. The lab is composed of a highly interdisciplinary and international team of motivated researchers, working on engineering and applying advanced polymeric materials for a range of biomedical and industrial uses.

Project background

The overall goal of this project is to understand how confinement imposed by the ECM on cells and tissues impacts cell signaling. This understanding is highly relevant for the design of 3D disease models and drug testing platforms that have realistic dose-response characteristics.

Specifically, we want to gain a quantitative understanding of how molecular interactions at the cell surface between the ECM, cell surface receptors, and extracellular ligands shifts reaction rates, and ultimately modulates intracellular signaling pathways. The project will include investigations into integrin-based effects as well as macromolecular crowding. The studies will be based on molecular assays, cellular assays, and 3D cell culture, and heavily rely on engineered cell substrates (2D and 3D).

Job description

The objective will be to measure reaction rates at the cell surface and pathway activation under various molecular confinement conditions. You will design and fabricate confinement conditions through adhesive patterning of surfaces, microfluidic systems, and 3D cell encapsulation in hydrogels. You will use advanced imaging techniques, as well as molecular and cellular assays to assess pathway activation. Applications to both single cells and 3D cell aggregates are envisaged. 

In addition, you are expected to contribute to lab duties, and will have the opportunity to contribute to teaching within the group.

This project contains aspects of cell biology, mechanobiology, biophysics, molecular biosciences, and cell substrate engineering. Throughout the PhD, you will gain expertise in these topics. You will also learn a number of techniques in cell and molecular biology, advanced imaging techniques (using fluorescent reporters, FRET, FCS), fabrication and functionalization of hydrogels, and microfabrication.

Your profile

We are looking for a curious and resourceful individual, with a pronounced taste for interdisciplinary science, and a motivation to answer fundamental questions in mechanobiology.

Academic excellence, a professional work attitude, and a proactive and self-driven work ethic are expected. Moreover, the candidate must be able to fluently communicate in English (oral and written) and be willing to work in a highly interactive international team. 

Applicants must hold a MSc degree in Physical Sciences, Life sciences, Bioengineering, or related fields. Good knowledge in cell biology or mechanobiology is preferred, but given the interdisciplinary nature of the project, and the wide scope of techniques that will be used, we are open to a variety of educational backgrounds.

In addition, applicants should have at least 2 of the following specific requirements:

  • Research experience in cell biology. Experience with fluorescent imaging would be appreciated
  • Research experience with use of hydrogels for cell culture
  • Research experience with engineered cell substrates (2D / 3D). Experience with either microfluidics or micropatterning would be a plus

The position is funded by the SNSF for 4 years, at 100% employment. The project will be supervised by Dr. Céline Labouesse. The position is subjected to admission to the doctoral program at D-MAVT .

Your workplace

Your workplace

We offer

The position is hosted in the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering (D-MAVT) of ETH Zurich, in the Zentrum Campus in Zurich, Switzerland. D-MAVT  is an interdisciplinary department with focus areas in process/chemical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering as well as robotics and controls. ETH Zurich  is a global leader in science and engineering and consistently ranks among the top universities in the world. Zurich is an international city with broad access to outdoor activities, arts and culture, and other European cities, as well as a rich and excellent scientific community. In this context, we offer:

  • Interdisciplinary research environment
  • Supportive and collaborative work environment
  • Flexibility in terms of experimental planning and working times
  • A motivating and engaged research lab
  • Freedom and support to explore independent ideas

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Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following information as a single PDF:

  • a cover letter of motivation that describes your scientific interest in this position and main scientific achievements to date (max. 2 pages)
  • CV
  • diplomas and course transcripts
  • the contact details of two or more references

Application deadline: June 2nd 2024. Interviews are expected to be scheduled in June 2024. Expected start date: Autumn 2024 (flexible).

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 about the Macromolecular Engineering Laboratory can be found on our website For questions about the position, please contact Dr. Labouesse ([email protected] ) (no applications).

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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