Phd Position Developing Luminescent Nanocrystal Layers to Enhance Biomass Production in Algal Cultivation

Phd Position Developing Luminescent Nanocrystal Layers to Enhance Biomass Production in Algal Cultivation

Published Deadline Location
28 Sep 25 Oct Amsterdam

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Job description

The use of non-renewable resources is causing global-scale environmental problems, which threaten the stability of our planet earth. The safe operating space to maintain liveable conditions on earth has been formulated in the planetary boundaries, of which several are already overstepped. Many of these problems are caused by human interruptions of biogeochemical cycles of the biogenic elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur leading to the creation of waste.

Zero Waste is a part of the university-wide theme of Sustainable Prosperity presented in the University of Amsterdam’s (UvA) 2021-2026 strategic plan. With Zero Waste, the UvA Faculty of Science (FNWI) aims to contribute to alleviating these environmental problems resulting from the current linear use of resources by (re-)designing processes, materials, and products to keep materials in closed cycles while meeting our needs.

Zero Waste will strongly connect to education at the Faculty of Science, especially to the new BSc programme Science and Design that focusses on four interdisciplinary themes: 1) high-tech designer materials, 2) renewable energy and resources, 3) engineering life and health, and 4) information science, modelling and simulation. Six Science & Design Doctorates will form the start of the Zero Waste research theme. They will work together in physical proximity and intensive interaction to strengthen the common aspects of the projects, while researching a broad range of topics. Physically, research and demonstration activities and part of the research of the theme can be carried out in SustainaLab, the new Matrix ONE building at Amsterdam Science Park.

Aim of the PhD project is to develop spectral shaping layers based on fluorescent nanocrystals and nanophotonics to enhance biomass production in algal cultivation. Recent breakthroughs allow the synthesis of fluorescent semiconductor nanocrystals with near-unity quantum yield, offering great opportunities as spectral shapers to optimize the solar spectrum to the needs of agricultural crops and algae. At the same time, substantial knowledge is available on the effect of (artificial) lighting on the growth of algae. In this project, we combine both worlds and develop light-shaping nanocrystal foils to investigate their potential for algal yield enhancement. The research will be carried out in an inspiring interdisciplinary collaboration, in the nanocrystal and optics labs of Prof. P. Schall at IoP, and the algae incubator labs of Prof. J. Huisman at IBED.

What are you going to do

Fluorescent semiconductor nanocrystals have great potential to be used in sustainable energy applications such as new-generation photovoltaic devices and spectral shapers. The latter offer great opportunities to directly convert the sunlight to boost PV efficiency or enhance photosynthesis to foster plant growth and increase biomass.

In this project, we apply highly luminescent nanocrystal layers to boost the growth of algae as sustainable biomass. Algae are developing to be an important source of sustainable feedstock as well as fish- and livestock feed, and growing them cost-effectively and sustainably with natural light is crucial for the green economy transition. Yet, algae use only limited portions of the available solar spectrum (the “photosynthetically active radiation” or PAR that spans the 400-700 nm region). Moreover, the pigments of different algal species (e.g., green, red and brown algae) absorb different wavebands within the PAR range. The solar spectrum, however, is much broader, spanning from the UV to the near infrared, thus containing much more energy than the PAR alone.

Taking advantage of recent developments in nanoscience, the PhD candidate will create optically active foils that convert light outside the PAR into the desired regions of the PAR that are most useful for algal growth. This will enhance their yield under natural light conditions. More specifically, we envision to convert harmful UV into blue, green or red light useful for plants and algae thereby maximizing the yield per hectare. The nanocrystals used in the initiative are ideally suited as spectral converters, having strong colour tunability, superior optical properties and are expected to be easily embedded into plastic or glass layers at the desired concentration, thereby allowing industrial application of the technology in algal bioreactors and greenhouses.

The PhD candidate will synthesize the nanomaterials, make efficient light-converting foils with added photonic design for light-outcoupling, and characterize the spectral properties of the foils. Furthermore, he will measure the photosynthetic rates and yields of different algal species at different wavelengths. The spectral characteristics of the foils and photosynthetic characteristics of the algae will be combined in mathematical models and experiments to assess the growth enhancement by the foils. These results will be used to optimize the foils for maximal yields of algal species with different photosynthetic pigments.

The position will be embedded in an inspiring interdisciplinary research environment of the Institute of Physics and the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics. The project is further embedded in a collaboration with users: commercial algae growers, as well as flow chemistry and foil producing companies to scale up the technology, and test it in commercial algae production. This integration of science and application should lead to knowledge utilization and commercial impact on the time scale of the PhD.


University of Amsterdam (UvA)


What do we require

  • Masters degree in Physics, Physical Chemistry, Optics, Photosynthesis Research or Biology
  • Experience in at least two of the following fields: nanocrystal synthesis, optical measurements, photosynthesis measurements or algal growth.
  • The candidate should be able to work at the interface of physics and biology.
  • The candidate has experience in modeling of optics and/or dynamical systems
  • The excellent candidate should be able to collaborate and adapt in an international team and exhibit good communication skills in oral and written English.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 18 months.

A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of four years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of four years). This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and Master students. 

The salary, depending on relevant experience before the beginning of the employment contract, will be €2,434 to €3,111 (scale P) gross per month, based on a fulltime contract (38 hours a week). This is exclusive 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus. A favourable tax agreement, the ‘30% ruling’, may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities is applicable.

Are you curious about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits like our excellent opportunities for study and development? Take a look here.


University of Amsterdam

With over 6,000 employees, 30,000 students and a budget of more than 600 million euros, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is an intellectual hub within the Netherlands. Teaching and research at the UvA are conducted within seven faculties: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Economics and Business, Law, Science, Medicine and Dentistry. Housed on four city campuses in or near the heart of Amsterdam, where disciplines come together and interact, the faculties have close links with thousands of researchers and hundreds of institutions at home and abroad.  

The UvA’s students and employees are independent thinkers, competent rebels who dare to question dogmas and aren’t satisfied with easy answers and standard solutions. To work at the UvA is to work in an independent, creative, innovative and international climate characterised by an open atmosphere and a genuine engagement with the city of Amsterdam and society.


Faculty of Science – Institute of Physics & Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 7,000, as well as 1,600 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain.

The Institute of Physics (IoP) and the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) represent two of the eight research institutes of the Faculty of Science at the University of Amsterdam. The IoP combines the Van der Waals-Zeeman Institute (WZI), the Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITFA) and the Institute for High Energy Physics IHEF) and is one of the large research institutes of the faculty of Science at the UvA.

Research at the IBED aims to unravel how ecosystems function in all their complexity, and how they change due to natural processes and human activities. At its core lies an integrated systems approach to study biodiversity, ecosystems and the environment. IBED adopts this systems approach to ecosystems, addressing abiotic (soil and water quality) and biotic factors (ecology and evolution of plants, animals, and microorganisms), and the interplay between those. The IBED vision includes research encompassing experimental and theoretical approaches at a wide variety of temporal and spatial scales, i.e. from molecules and microorganisms to patterns and processes occurring at the global scale.


  • PhD scholarship
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2434—€3111 per month
  • University graduate
  • 21-772


University of Amsterdam (UvA)

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Science Park 904, 1098 XH, Amsterdam

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