PhD Position in Environmental Biogeochemistry

University of Bern Institute of Geography

Ph.D. position in Environmental Biogeochemistry/Soil Science to study the release and fate of antimony in soils upon flooding.

The Soil Science Group, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, invites applications for a

Responsibilities and background

We are looking for a motivated candidate who is interested in being part of our new project titled "Release, biomethylation and biovolatilization of antimony in soils. Drivers, mechanisms and global environmental implications." This project is financed through an SNSF Project funding awarded to Prof. Dr. Adrien Mestrot and will take place at the Institute of Geography. It will take full advantage of the state-of-the-art analytical facilities present at our Institute (e.g. clean room, HPLC-ICP-MS, HPLC-ESI-MS, incubation facilities).

Due to its extensive industrial use, antimony, a naturally occurring element, has become a pollutant of environmental concern. In spite of the rapid growth in its use, antimony has been much less studied than other trace element such as arsenic or mercury and very little is known about its biogeochemical cycle. Flooded environments, likely to become more common due to the rapid climate changes, are key environments in the cycle of antimony affecting its storage and remobilization. In addition, antimony is impacted by biological mechanisms taking place in soils such as biomethylation, leading to biovolatilization, which are responsible for the transformation of inorganic antimony into compounds of different toxicities and physicochemical properties further affecting its mobility in the environment.

The main objective of this PhD project is to study the influence of flooding conditions on the chemical speciation and mobility of antimony in different soils. Additionally, the PhD candidate will work in close collaboration with an early career Postdoc to identify the presence of biomethylation, and its associated biovolatilization, of antimony in soils and the influence of land-use (e.g. agriculture) and climate change on this biological mechanism. To do so, she/he will:

a) Improve and adapt newly developed analytical techniques for the chemical speciation of antimony.
b) Sample and perform field measurements of antimony-polluted shooting ranges in Switzerland, rice paddies in China and a river catchment in Australia, the last two are mine-impacted areas.
c) Incubate the sampled soils in the laboratory and measure a range of parameters in the soil solution and the soils to characterize the release and fate of antimony.
d) Use solid-state speciation (XANES), Size Exclusion Chromatography coupled to ICP-MS, HPLC-ICP-MS, ICP-OES, IC, CNS and a range of other techniques.
The successful candidate should have a Master in Geography, Geology, Chemistry, Environmental Sciences or similar. Experience in soil sampling and in using some analytical instruments is required. Specific experience with method development, HPLC, ICP-MS and XANES would be an asset. The successful candidate should have good English writing and communication skills.
Further information
The salary is according to SNF and University of Bern guidelines, with funding guaranteed for 4 years starting April 1st or at earliest convenience.
If interested, please send your application (CV, motivation letter of 1 page max, and the names and contact details of at least two references in one single file in PDF format) before January 31st by email to