MPI for Biogeochemistry offers two PhD projects

The offered PhD projects are part of the International Max Planck Research School for Global Biogeochemical Cycles (IMPRS-gBGC) at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.

In cooperation with the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry houses a unique and flexible research program that grants German and foreign students a broad selection of learning opportunities while still maintaining a research focus. The IMPRS-gBGC offers a PhD program specializing in global biogeochemistry and related Earth System sciences.

Projects in Biogeochemistry

Project description​

At ATTO, we are conducting a study with measurements of traits of tree species together with the identification and quantification of BVOC emissions from leaf to canopy levels, in different forest types. We aim to put this in a larger context of ecosystem BVOC emissions and optimize BVOC modeling. The focus of this PhD project is to combine field measurements of plant traits and BVOC emissions with plant traits and environmental variables that are observed with sensors installed at micrometerological towers. In the end, the candidate should be able to model ecosystem BVOC emission based on a bottom-up approach that accounts for plant traits and forest structure of the site. The project will shed light on mechanisms of BVOC tree emission based on plant trait diversity and provide an empirical foundation for scaling up BVOC emissions of tropical vegetation.

Affiliation & Support

The PhD candidate will be affiliated to the chair “Biodiversity of Plants" at the Institute for Ecology and Evolution at FSU Jena and the “Biogeochemical Processes” department at MPI-BGC and will visit Manaus to conduct fieldwork. The project combines extended periods of fieldwork in pristine tropical forest systems with the use of modern analytical tools. Supervision at the FSU Jena is provided by Prof. Dr. Christine Römermann, and by Dr. Eliane Gomes-Alves and Prof. Dr. Susan Trumbore at MPI-BGC.


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. Prerequisites for this PhD project are:
  • a Master’s degree in bio(geo)chemistry, environmental science, geography, biology, ecology, forestry, chemistry, or other disciplines related to environmental sciences)
  • Experience in field measurements under demanding conditions (like those in tropical forests) is highly desired
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English
  • Interest in learning Portuguese (in case it is not a spoken language yet) is desired
  • Readiness to work within a multidisciplinary and multicultural research team

Project description​

The Amazon is under threat from deforestation and changing climatic conditions. To predict responses of the forest and to ultimately preserve it, we need to understand the functioning of these systems in their undisturbed state. A better understanding may be aided by recent technology that allows us to study unknown metabolic signals in unprecedented detail, e.g. by ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry (FT-MS), proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), and liquid chromatography coupled to organic carbon and organic nitrogen detection (LC-OCD-OND). Concentrations of trace elements in dissolved or colloidal organics can be determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

The overall research aim of the project is to analyze temporal data of molecular signals and to relate them to key environmental variables such as temperature, precipitation, soil texture, and water solution chemistry (pH, electrical conductivity, C concentrations). The research centers around the following questions:

  • How do molecular signals vary seasonally?
  • How are they affected by precipitation and drought events?
  • Which markers are indicative of ecosystem-specific processes, and can we track these signals in local streams and rivers?

For this, the PhD candidate will work with data from different forest types, using networks of lysimeters and piezometers. Thereby, the PhD project will link ecosystem properties and environmental drivers to the metabolic responses of major tropical forest types under the extremes of seasonal climatic variability.

Within the project, the PhD candidate will use advanced analytical techniques, such as FT-MS and PTR-MS to analyze patterns and trends of metabolic responses.

Affiliation and support

The PhD candidate will be affiliated to the chair “Applied Geology” at the Institute for Geosciences at FSU Jena and the “Molecular Biogeochemistry” group at MPI-BGC and will visit Manaus to conduct fieldwork. The project combines extended periods of fieldwork in pristine tropical forest systems with the use of modern analytical tools.
Supervision at the FSU Jena is provided by Prof. Dr. Thorsten Schäfer, and by Prof. Dr. Gerd Gleixner at MPI-BGC. 


First and foremost we seek a person with strong scientific curiosity from all countries! We would give preference to a person with:

  • a Master’s degree in Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry or other chemistry-related sciences, such as Environmental Sciences/ Forestry with special focus on Geochemistry
  • experience in analytical chemistry, especially mass spectrometry, and handling of big data sets
  • of advantage is experience with FT-MS techniques (TOF, FT-ICR-MS or Orbitrap)
  • of advantage is experience with time series analysis or multivariate analysis
  • of advantage are oral communication skills in Portuguese
  • Very good oral and written communication skills in English

Application procedure

Apply to the IMPRS-gBGC until September 6, 2020.  Phone or video conference interviews will be held September 07 – 17, 2020. Depending on the development with the Corona pandemic, the Recruitment event will take place in Jena November 02 – 04, 2020.

The Max Planck Society seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The Max Planck Society is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.