PhD Transport Simulations of Disease Spread to Support Early-Warning Systems

PhD Transport Simulations of Disease Spread to Support Early-Warning Systems

Published Deadline Location
8 Nov 3 Jan Delft

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Challenge: Transforming global risk indicators, PCR analyses of sewage samples from international means of transport, and local activity profiles into early-warning indicators for disease spread.

Job description

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown that when information on disease spread is available early, more effective policy measures can be taken. Right now, the prevalence of a disease is only visible when the number of symptomatic patients rises above a certain threshold or when hospitalizations go up. At that moment, it is already quite late to apply effective interventions. PCR-testing of sewage samples has shown to be a good indicator of the spread of a disease in earlier stages, but we want to move even earlier than that. Most diseases enter the country via persons or animals travelling through transport hubs such as ports, airports, and major train stations. When applying the sampling of sewage to ships, airplanes, and trains, it might be possible to get an indication of the entrance of a pathogen into the country much earlier.

Erasmus Medical Center, TU Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam have joined forces in the Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Center (PDPC) to address complex interdisciplinary problems like this. PDPC aims to prepare society for future pandemics and disasters. We will reduce vulnerabilities and risks and build resilience through effective disaster prevention, preparedness and recovery measures. Convergence of the technical, medical and social sciences is essential for developing the next generation of approaches to disasters and pandemics. In the foreseeable future, our society can expect many more and unforeseen virus outbreaks and extreme events because of climate change. But how do we protect society from the next pandemic or disaster? Which of the lessons learnt could develop prevention and intervention measures, and how could research contribute to preparedness?

The INSPECT project of the PDPC studies integrated early warning surveillance tools and methods to detect possible disease outbreaks as early as possible. Within the project we aim to identify and characterize critical nodes in the complex global transport network for the emergence and dissemination of new viruses. Using rapid deployable and innovative sampling and detection methods we will further investigate these critical nodes.

As a PhD student on the project, you will work on the following aspects: (1) constructing a global flow-based transport model that can predict when and where travellers, crew and animals originating or passing through countries of concern will enter The Netherlands; (2) constructing a local activity-based transport model that predicts what the most likely locations are for travellers who used a transport means where a disease was found in the sewage after testing; (3) studying ways of real-time visualization, explainability and ethical aspects of the proposed models; (4) testing the models on simulated data at the start of the project and on actual data in the final stages of the project.

As a data-science and simulation-oriented PhD candidate at TU Delft, you will work closely together with PhD candidates on virology at EUR and Erasmus Medical Center, a PhD candidate on the development of surveillance and measuring tools at Civil Engineering at TU Delft, a Researcher on Ethical aspects of these types of surveillance systems, and a researcher who is responsible for the translation of the results to practice. A "Living Lab", probably in the Port of Rotterdam, will be available for development and testing.

This PhD research project will take place in the Policy Analysis group of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management of TU Delft. The research group has a long history in logistics and transportation simulation, as well as activity-based virus spread modelling. The group uses System Dynamics, discrete-event simulation, and agent-based modelling, as well as data analytics tools for this type of research. Several open-source simulation tools developed in Java and Python, and several open data sources are available as a starting point for the research.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


We are looking for someone who has:

  • An MSc degree in computer science, mathematics, econometrics, artificial intelligence, systems engineering, transport modelling, logistics, or in a comparable program.
  • Demonstrable experience with simulation models and data analytics.
  • Experience in gathering and analysing large data sets from databases or the Web.
  • Programming experience, preferably in object-oriented environments such as Java or Python.
  • Good social and communication skills; Excellent report writing and presentation skills; please visit for more information about the admission requirements.
  • Good time management and organisational skills. Inquisitive, reflective and eager to grow;
  • Excellent command of the English language, and willing to learn Dutch when required.
  • We expect dedication and enthusiasm for innovative research, combined with scientific curiosity and the capacity for teamwork in an interdisciplinary environment.

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2541 per month in the first year to € 3247 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.

Challenge. Change. Impact!


Faculty Technology, Policy and Management

With its excellent education and research at the intersection of technology, society and policy, the Faculty of TPM makes an important contribution to solving complex technical-social issues, such as energy transition, mobility, digitalisation, water management and (cyber) security. We combine insights from the engineering sciences, the social and the humanities. We develop robust models and designs, are internationally oriented and have an extensive network with knowledge institutions, companies, social organisations and governments.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management.


  • PhD
  • Health
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD03054


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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