Career Opportunity /  31 March 2023

Postdoctoral fellowship in drone-assisted collection of environmental DNA.

The Environmental Robotics Lab at ETH Zurich welcomes applications for a postdoctoral fellowship on robotics methods for the collection of environmental DNA to automate monitoring of biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems.

Deadline: 31 March 2023 - the deadline has passed.
Zurich - Switzerland

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). The collection of the samples is one of the most labour-intensive and costly parts of the workflow. Robots can automate eDNA collection, providing inexpensive, standardized sampling and enabling surveys in normally difficult-to-access environments. See our work recently published in Science Robotics.

Job description

The research will explore new methods to automate eDNA collection with drones in terrestrial ecosystems, from forests to agricultural fields. This includes:

  • Conceive novel strategies to collect eDNA from one or multiple sources (e.g. water, soil, surfaces, air) using aerial robots. 
  • Experiment with functional materials, soft architectures and innovative manufacturing approaches to implement eDNA collector materials (e.g. smart materials, origami manufacturing methods).
  • Validate the proposed solutions in the field.

Your profile

  • You should hold a PhD in robotics and demonstrate research experience in the field of aerial robotics.
  • A strong knowledge in deofgn, 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 offer

The project will be hosted at WSL, where the experiments inspiring these questions are being performed. This offers a unique opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary team of roboticists, ecologists and biologists with tight feedback between experiment and theory, and the possibility to access state-of-the-art field sites (e.g. Masoala Rainforest Halle at Zurich Zoo).

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.

We are a motivated and creative team of roboticists affiliated with ETH and WSL. Our research goal is to push robots out of their comfort zone. We, therefore, develop versatile and adaptable robots to explore challenging natural environments rather than robots to execute tasks with precision and repeatability in simple and predictable indoor settings. On the one hand, this is an opportunity to study new and exciting locomotion, perception, and control strategies to obtain rich sensory and motor skills to operate in unknown and unpredictable environments. On the other hand, our robots provide concrete solutions to some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) by finding uses in environmental monitoring, disaster mitigation, and precision agriculture.

Curious? So are we.

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 [email protected] (no applications). Review of applications will be on an ongoing basis beginning Feb 15th 2023 and continue until the position is filled.