PhD position: Exploring microbial potential for PFAS transformations

PhD position: Exploring microbial potential for PFAS transformations

Published Deadline Location
7 May 30 May Utrecht

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Join our innovative team developing sustainable solutions for environmental decontamination. Help tap into the microbial power for PFAS cleanup.

Job description

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are so-called ‘’forever chemicals’’ that are found everywhere: in our soils, water, food and bodies. PFAS contamination of soils is an increasingly important global issue, and we still lack sustainable methods for PFAS remediate. The PFAS Remediation Living Lab is a contaminated location at the Utrecht Science Park. It serves as a testing grounds for the development of new, more sustainable approaches to PFAS decontamination. In this PhD position you will be involved in a research programme within this living lab.

Your job
The PFAS Remediation Living Lab was created for sustainable development of PFAS soil and groundwater remediation with a particular application to the PFAS contaminated field at Utrecht University. It brings together researchers and students from the Beta and Geo faculties, the UU Facility Service Centre and the Utrecht Municipality. The living lab was created in cooperation with Utrecht University Living Labs (UULabs) and is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

This position is one of three PhD positions involved in the research programme. Each PhD researcher will work on its own line of research and will collaborate with the other PhD researchers, the rest of the research team and stakeholders in the living lab. All three PhDs within the PFAS Living Lab will contribute to making this a vibrant, impactful and interactive community. Would you like to contribute to developing sustainable solutions for removing and destroying PFAS substances, remediating this field?

In this PhD position you aim to advance our understanding of microbial tolerance to, and potential degradation of, PFAS chemicals. Using this knowledge, you will explore the extent to which microbial approaches may help in the development of integrated decontamination approaches in the field.

More specifically, this PhD project focuses on the following key questions:
  • What impact does PFAS contamination have on soil-borne microbial communities?
  • Does repeated PFAS exposure select for enrichments of PFAS-tolerant microbes?
  • Can enriched microbial communities transform and/or degrade PFAS components, and what are the most affected chemicals?
  • What are the environmental conditions that best lead to, and support, PFAS transformations?
  • Can microbial activities in the field be steered toward more efficient PFAS remediation?

In your research, you will utilise a range of approaches, combining both cultivation-dependent and cultivation-independent methods, and involving the chemical analysis of PFAS and PFAS degradation products. You will track the fates of both microbial communities, as well as PFAS contaminants, in the field, in specifically designed microcosm enrichments experiments and in state-of-the-art mesocosm experiments using the Ecotron facility of the Netherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre (NPEC). You will examine the characteristics of microbial consortia able to cope with and transform PFAS components and study the environmental conditions that best stimulate the desired microbial activities.


Utrecht University


Our ideal candidate has a strong alignment with the following interests and skills:
  • a Master's degree in a relevant discipline, such as environmental sciences, microbiology, soil sciences, or a related field;
  • a demonstrable ability to work with a range of approaches, including microbiological, molecular and chemical techniques;
  • experience with and an affinity for the design of laboratory experiments as well as field measurements;
  • experience with statistical approaches, for instance within R, and bioinformatic experience would be an advantage;
  • the ability to work independently, but also within the interdisciplinary project team;
  • excellent writing and verbal communication skills in English.

You are expected to publish the results in peer-reviewed papers. Up to 10% of your time will be dedicated to assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programme of the Department of Biology. You will be enrolled in the graduate school of the Institute of Environmental Biology, in which a personalised training programme will be set up upon recruitment, which will reflect your training needs and career objectives.

Conditions of employment

We offer:
  • a position for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment at the end of the first year. You will be supported to fulfil all the requirements for the doctorate degree within this four-year period;
  • a fulltime working week and a gross monthly salary between € 2.770,- and € 3.539,- in the case of full-time employment (salary scale P under the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU);
  • 8% holiday pay and 8.3% year-end bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave and flexible terms of employment based on the CAO NU.

In addition to the employment conditions from the CAO for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. These include agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, sports and cultural schemes and you get discounts on software and other IT products. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment through the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we encourage you to grow. For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


Universiteit Utrecht

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Sharing science, shaping tomorrow.

At the Faculty of Science there are six departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes that work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing challenges. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

You will work in the Ecology and Biodiversity research group at Utrecht University. The central research theme of the group is to understand how ecosystems respond to changes in climate and land use. We want to use novel insights gained in ecosystem responses to inform future policy and management. Within the Ecology and Biodiversity research group, extensive experience has been gained in research on soil-borne microbial communities, especially with respect to plant-soil interactions and the effects of human perturbations on the diversity and functioning of these communities. Your position would be embedded within the dynamic international working environment of the Ecology and Biodiversity research group, within the Institute of Environmental Biology of Utrecht University.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 3918



Padualaan 8, 3584CH, Utrecht

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