Two PhD projects available at MPI-BGC Jena

Both PhD project is 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.

The first project is directly related to ATTO. Supervisors are Dr. Jost Lavric and Prof. Susan Trumbore. The second project is partially related to ATTO, but will also incoorporate other research projects. Supervisors are Gerd Gleixner and Georg Pohnert.

Project 1: Greenhouse gas budgets

Project description

The Amazon plays a large role in the global biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases (GHGs) – e.g., variations in carbon fluxes in tropical land areas are a major driver of interannual variations in the global atmospheric CO2 growth rate. Other important GHGs, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have large natural sources in the Amazon’s wetlands and soils, as well as from biomass burning.

Long-term continuous atmospheric observations of GHGs and other biogeochemical trace gases at the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO project), located in a protected rain forest region in the central Amazon Basin, are already providing valuable data for regional estimates of GHG dynamics. The addition of new atmospheric concentration and stable isotopic composition gradient measurements from near surface up to 321 m a.g.l., will provide new insights into land-atmosphere exchange at spatial scales of meters and up to hundreds of kilometers. It will allow the attribution of fluxes to different source and sink processes, as well as provide information on atmospheric dynamics and mixing, including the location of the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

In order to address the above research questions, the successful candidate will work with presently available data (CO2/CH4/CO data collected since 2012) and with data from the new CO213CO2, CO, N2O, CH4, delta13C-CO2/CH4 measurement systems (FTIR, CRDS) to be installed in late 2019/early 2020, which s/he will also be responsible for.

Working group & planned collaborations

The successful candidate will integrate the Tall Tower Atmospheric Gas Measurements group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC). The candidate’s work will be closely related to that of several other work groups of the ATTO project consortium; in particular, s/he will collaborate with colleagues from MPI-BGC, MPI-C and the University of Bremen (Germany), and INPA, INPE and EMBRAPA-Belem (Brazil).


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to motivated and qualified students from all countries. Prerequisites for this PhD project are:

  • a Master’s degree in atmospheric science, meteorology, bio(geo)chemistry or other disciplines related to environmental sciences
  • Experience in scientific programming and handling of large data sets
  • Knowledge on stable isotopes and land-atmosphere interactions are an advantage
  • Hands-on experience with scientific measurement equipment
  • Interest in occasional field work at remote locations
  • Self-driven personality able to work both independently and in a team
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English, knowledge of German and/or Portuguese is an asset
  • Motivation to present results at scientific meetings and publish them in scientific journals

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.

Project 2: Decoding the molecular signals of dissolved organic matter

Project description

This project aims to give insight into the chemical diversity and metabolic activities in the Critical Zone. The overall research aim is to identify new marker compounds and general metabolic patterns for the elucidation of biogeochemical processes in this environment. Using these markers and patterns, the research focuses on answering the questions: which biological and environmental factors influence the molecular composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM)?

Which metabolites and metabolic processes can be linked to DOM signatures? In order to answer these questions, samples obtained among different vegetation- and climatic zones under different land use will be analyzed. Thereby, this project will link microbial and abiotic drivers to the changing chemical signatures from the different sampling sites and under extreme climatic situations.

Within the project, advanced analytical techniques such as ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry and metabolite profiling will be applied to characterize the samples and to specifically single out marker molecules for structural and functional analysis.

The PhD candidate will be affiliated in the working group Molecular Biogeochemistry in MPI-BGC and in the Institute for anorganic and analytical chemistry in the FSU Jena. The successful PhD candidate will analyse the molecular properties of soil DOM using targeted and untargeted Orbitrap-MS techniques in order to answer “who” is doing “what” in soil and groundwater systems. Supervision at the MPI-BGC is provided by apl. Prof. Dr. Gerd Gleixner, Dr. Markus Lange and Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Additional expertize will be provided by Simon Benk (network analysis), Carsten Simon (fragmentation trees) and Dr. Carlos Sanchez-Arcos (metabolomics).


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. For this particular PhD project we seek a candidate with

  • a Master’s degree in Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry or other chemistry related sciences
  • experience in analytical chemistry, LC-MS, handling of big data sets
  • of advantage is experience in high resolution MS (FT-ICR-MS or Orbitrap-MS)
  • very good oral and written communication skills in English

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. 

Application procedure

Apply to the IMPRS-gBGC until August 27, 2019. You can find detailed instructions and the application form on

Project 1 at IMPRS-gBGC.

Project 2 at IMPRS-gBGC.