Postdoctoral fellowship in soft eDNA collectors for biodiversity monitoring

 The Environmental Robotics Lab at ETH Zurich welcomes applications for a postdoctoral fellowship on the study, development and characterization of soft collectors for terrestrial and airborne environmental DNA.

The position is available for one year and renewable for up to two years based on performance. The start date will be agreed upon by both parties.

Project background

With the historic Kunming-Montreal Agreement of 18 December 2022, more than 200 countries agreed to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. But becoming nature-positive is an ambitious goal, also held-back by the lack of efficient and accurate tools to capture snapshots of global biodiversity. This is a task where robots, in combination with environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies, can make a difference. Measuring biodiversity with eDNA involves collecting and sequencing the genetic traces shed by local species in the environment. eDNA surveys are revolutionizing biodiversity monitoring because they are non-invasive and multiple species, even the most elusive ones, can be detected from a single environmental sample (e.g., water, soil, air). Sample collection is one of the most laborious and expensive parts of the workflow. Robots equipped with appropriate collection material can automate eDNA surveys and provide standardised and inexpensive biodiversity monitoring even in difficult-to-access environments.

Job description

In our work recently published in Science Robotics, we showed that a drone can collect eDNA from tree branches with commercially available adhesive materials (tape or humified gauze). We now want to study collectors with materials that are specifically designed for eDNA. Therefore, the proposed research project will explore new methods and materials to collect DNA and DNA-containing particles from various sources (e.g. surface, air) and substrates (e.g. soil, bark and leaves). This research includes:

  • Experiment with functional materials, soft architectures and innovative manufacturing approaches to implement eDNA collectors (e.g. smart materials, origami production methods).
  • Integrate the collectors on commercial or customised drones.
  • Characterise the collectors with controlled experiments and field studies in collaboration with ecologists.
  • Develop and test methods to extract eDNA from the collectors in collaboration with molecular biologists.

Your profile

  • You should hold a PhD in robotics, materials science, or related fields.
  • A strong knowledge of design, prototyping and control of mechatronic systems is required.
  • Strong motivation to work in a highly multidisciplinary environment collaborating with biologists and environmental scientists is required.
  • Fluent communication skills (written and presentation) in English are essential. 
  • You will also be expected to support PhD supervision, help coordinate the participation in the XPRIZE Rainforest challenge and contribute to the lab's teaching activities.

We look forward to receiving online applications including:

  • CV including full publication list,
  • copy of the PhD Thesis,
  • two reference letters,
  • 1-page letter of motivation addressed to Prof. Dr Stefano Mintchev.

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted via our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered. 

For more information, specific questions regarding the position can be directed to Professor Stefano Mintchev at smintchev@ethz.ch (no applications). Review of applications will be on an ongoing basis beginning Feb 27th 2023 and continue until the position is filled.

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