Utrecht University has great ambitions for its teaching quality and study success rates. This also applies to its clear research profiles which are centred around four themes: Dynamics of Youth, Institutions, Life Sciences and Sustainability. Utrecht University plays a prominent role in our society and contributes to finding the answers to topical and future societal issues.

The Department of Earth Sciences is now looking for highly-motivated, high-potential applicant to fill a:

PhD position in groundwater contaminant transport (4 yrs)

Project: Quantifying particle and contaminant transport, flow paths and travel times in groundwater systems using DNA-nanoparticles

A 4-year PhD position, financed by the Dutch Science Foundation STW, is available within the research programme WaterTagging: DNA-nanoparticles for tracing and modelling water flows and travel times in natural systems. This programme aims to develop and apply (1) innovative, robust, and environmentally friendly silica-protected iron oxide micro-particles tagged with artificial DNA to trace contaminant movement in natural water systems and (2) an innovative coupled model approach to capture dynamics in hydrological pathways and travel times and their effects on groundwater quality. The complete programme consists of two PhD-positions and one Post-doc. Recently, a promising avenue for water science has seen the light: the development of inert DNA-tracers. The exceptional property of DNA-tagging is the infinite number of unique tracers that can be produced and their detectability at extreme low concentrations. Such tracers give the water sector a unique tool for in-situ mapping of transport of contaminants and (pathogenic) microorganisms in water systems and (alternative) drinking water production sites (e.g. groundwater, river bank filtration).

Project objectives: To quantify the fate and behaviour of the DNA-tagged microparticle in groundwater systems under a range of physico-chemical conditions in order to assess whether they can be used to determine travel times and spatial-temporal patterns of contaminant transport in groundwater and whether they may be used as surrogates for microorganisms to determine safe setback distances or adequate treatment by soil passage. The research entails laboratory and field scale experiments and comparing DNA-tracers behaviour to a suite of contaminants, ranging from chemical compounds to microorganisms. Furthermore, the candidate is responsible for developing a combined monitoring-modelling approach to quantify spatial patterns in travel times towards drinking water wells.

Up to 10 percent of your time will be dedicated to assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programmes of the department. You and your supervisors will together set up a Training & Supervision plan for the additional education and supervision that you yourself specifically need.

The position is based at Utrecht University and the work will be carried out at Utrecht University, KWR and UNESCO-IHE. The project will be supervised by Prof Dr Jack Schijven (Utrecht Univ. & RIVM), Prof Dr Pieter Stuyfzand and Dr Arnaut van Loon (KWR) and Dr Jan-Willem Foppen (UNESCO-IHE). The overall programme responsible is Dr. Thom Bogaard (Delft Univ. of Technology).


Applicants should have a Master of Science degree in Earth Sciences, Hydrology, Physics or similar with a clear affinity with groundwater hydrology, contaminant transport, hydrochemistry. Experience in classical microbiological detection is desirable and willingness to this is essential. The applicant should have knowledge of modeling transport processes in porous media, some experience with laboratory and field experiments and be fluent in English. Also, a pro-active, open working attitude and willingness and capacity to work in a multi-disciplinary project is required. Affinity with the dissemination of scientific results towards stakeholders and basic knowledge about drinking water production in The Netherlands is strongly appreciated.

The candidate will participate in all meetings and workshops organised by the WatertTagging research group. The candidate disseminates results within the project during the meetings, but also and in particular through presentations at conferences and contributions to scientific journals

Terms of employment:

The successful candidate will be offered a full-time PhD position at Utrecht University, at first for one year. Depending on a satisfactory performance this may be extended to a total period of four years, with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The first evaluation will take place approximately after six months of employment, the second after nine months. After the nine month evaluation the decision will be made whether an extension of the contract to the maximum period of four years will be offered to the employee.

Employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. The gross monthly salary starts at 2,191.- in the first year and increases to 2,801.- in the fourth year, and is supplemented by a holiday allowance of 8% per year and a year-end bonus of 8.3% (salary level 1-9-2013). We also offer a pension scheme and flexible employment conditions.

Facilities for sports and child care are available on our main campus (where the Department of Earth Sciences is situated), which is located only 15 minutes away from the historical city centre of Utrecht.

About the organisation:

The Utrecht Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. With a population of 2600 students (BSc and MSc) and 600 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty is organised in four Departments: Innovation, Environmental & Energy Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, and Human Geography & Spatial Planning.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts teaching and research across the full range of the solid Earth and environmental Earth sciences, with activities in almost all areas of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biogeology and hydrogeology. The department hosts a highly international group of more than 100 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and houses a wide variety of world-class laboratories. Our research in hydrogeology is multi-disciplinary and multi-scale. It concerns the flow of fluids, transport of reactive solutes, colloidal particles, and heat, as well as electrokinetic effects, in (highly) deformable porous media. It commonly consists of a combination of theoretical, computational, and experimental studies.

Additional information:

Informal enquiries may be sent to Prof. Jack Schijven (jack.schijven@rivm.nl) and/or Prof Dr Pieter Stuyfzand (Pieter.Stuyfzand@kwrwater.nl), Dr Thom Bogaard (T.A.Bogaard@tudelft.nl).

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. The application deadline is January 15, 2017. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. We seek to initiate the position not later than May 15, 2017. Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

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posted: 25 November 2016     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.