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 on the impact of microbial treatment on the weathering behaviour of rocks (4 yrs)

Physical, chemical and biological weathering has a profound impact on the Earth's landscape and on its building infrastructure. Rock and masonry are constantly damaged and disaggregated by chemical reactions, water infiltration and temperature changes. Strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage is one of the United Nations' Targets for Sustainable Cities and Communities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Fluids are a major driver of rock weathering: they trigger, among others, dissolution, precipitation, frost and salt weathering. The key to manipulating weathering lies in understanding and controlling fluid flow within the internal pore structure of rocks and thereby influencing the related pore-scale processes. While microbial organisms are generally known to alter rock surfaces, some actually display physiological capabilities that have beneficial effects on rock properties due to their production of bio-cement, gas and acids. Before we can harness these beneficial effects, we must first study how these organisms impact fluid flow at the pore scale.

The Dutch Research Council VICI project, led by Prof. Veerle Cnudde, 'Towards protecting and improving building stones through microbial manipulation of pore structure' (short: BugControl), will focus on the understanding of bio-manipulated pore-scale processes inside rocks. The 4-year PhD project aims at understanding fluid-rock interaction in the presence of microbial organisms using advanced 4D imaging techniques. The outcomes of this PhD project will be incorporated into a team-effort to predict the impact of microbial organisms on rock properties and develop smart bio-conservation strategies.

The PhD project will develop a protocol for biofilm visualization inside rock by applying X-ray tomography. Via advanced imaging techniques, correlative microscopy strategies with next-generation automated electron microscopy and 4D micro-CT a better understanding into the bacteria-induced pore scale processes will be obtained. Therefore, pathfinder materials will be fully characterized using advanced imaging techniques and lab measurements. After application of specific bacteria on these pathfinder stones in the lab, the induced bio-activity will be characterized.

The PhD candidate will engage in a trans-disciplinary research environment by closely collaborating with two postdoctoral fellows and 1 other PhD students, who are also part of the BugControl project and numerous PhD students and Postdocs working in the field of advanced imaging techniques and pore scale processes. Fieldwork campaigns are planned to take place in The Netherlands and Belgium. Advanced imaging is planned in Belgium and at the synchrotron facilities in Switzerland (SLS-PSI) and France (ESRF). As such, the PhD candidate will be co-supervised by a professor from the Centre for X-ray imaging (UGCT) and a minimum research visit of a total of 6 months at Ghent University is anticipated.

A personalised training programme will be set up, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives. As part of this training, up to 10% of the candidate's time will be dedicated to assisting in Bachelor's and Master's teaching programmes.


We are seeking a PhD candidate with a MSc degree in earth sciences (obtained by the time the position starts) with a demonstrable affinity for natural stones, microstructural analysis, and geochemistry. The applicant must have good practical lab skills and ideally familiar with advanced imaging techniques. Moreover, the applicant should have excellent written and spoken English skills and be highly motivated to work in an international multidisciplinary team.

Terms of employment:

You will be offered a full-time PhD position, initially for one year with extension to four years in total upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. Employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. The gross monthly salary starts with 2,434 in the first year and increases to 3,111 in the fourth year of employment with a full-time appointment. The salary is supplemented by a holiday allowance of 8% per year and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%. In addition, we offer a pension scheme, collective insurance schemes and flexible employment conditions.

About the organisation:

The Utrecht Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. With a population of 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, Sustainable Development, 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 tenured staff of over 45 scientists and more than 110 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Our research programme spans four intertwined themes: Climate & Life, Earth interior, Earth materials, and Environmental Earth Sciences. We house or have access to a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

The PhD project is based within the Environmental Hydrogeology Group. The Environmental Hydrogeology Group performs fundamental and applied research on the transport of fluids, colloids, and reactive chemical components in the shallow and deep subsurface. We apply a combination of theoretical, statistical, computational, and experimental methods to upscale processes from micro (pore) scale to column, and up to the field scale. Our work is related to environment and subsurface remediation, geo?resources, and CO2 storage. The generated knowledge on upscaling in porous materials is highly cross-disciplinary fostering collaborations with many scientific groups from (Earth) Science, applied research, as well as industrial partners.

Additional information

For informal questions, please contact the project leader, Prof. Veerle Cnudde (professor of Porous Media Imaging Techniques) at v.cnudde@uu.nl.

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. The application deadline is November 15, 2021. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. The preferred starting date is January 1, 2022 or a.s.a.p.

Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

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posted: 19 October 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.