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Postdoctoral fellowship on drone-assisted collection of environmental DNA for pest detection in agriculture in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, fixed-term

 at ETH Zurich welcomes applications for a postdoctoral fellowship on drone-assisted collection of environmental DNA for pest detection in agriculture.

Project background

Globalisation and climate change have increased the risk of pest invasions and outbreaks, leading to substantial crop losses and economic damages worldwide. Traditional methods like visual inspections, traps, and remote imaging often prove ineffective in timely detecting invasions or outbreaks during their early stages when efficient and sustainable management protocols are most critical. Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys overcome this limitation thanks to their remarkable sensitivity in detecting even the smallest genetic traces left behind by organisms. However, eDNA surveys face a major challenge - collecting eDNA in terrestrial ecosystems is labour-intensive due to the multitude of surfaces and sources that need sampling. These factors motivate the need for research of drone-assisted methods to automate eDNA surveys in agricultural landscapes.

Job description

In our work recently published in , we showed that a drone can collect eDNA from tree branches with commercially available adhesive materials (tape or humified gauze). We are now eager to expand on this research to eDNA surveys in agricultural landscapes. For this task, we aim to develop aerial physical interaction strategies to swab plant structures and collect surface eDNA. The responsibilities encompassed by this role include:

  • Designing and implementing an end-effector equipped with eDNA collector materials for swabbing vegetation
  • Developing the necessary sensing and control strategies to enable physical interaction with vegetation and employ the end-effector to collect eDNA from the surface of crops
  • Conducting field tests and validating the performance of the robotic system
  • Contributing to project reporting and dissemination activities
Your profile
  • You should hold a PhD in robotics
  • A strong background in the domains of aerial robotics and/or aerial physical interactions
  • Experience in prototyping mechanical and electronic systems
  • Proven track record in implementing real-life aerial robotic systems
  • 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
Your workplace
Your workplace

We offer

The project will be hosted at , 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.

The position is initially available for one year and may be renewed for an additional year based on performance. The anticipated start date is early 2024.

We are a dynamic team of roboticists affiliated with ETH and WSL, driven by the mission to challenge and expand the capabilities of robotics. Rather than focusing on precise and repetitive tasks in controlled indoor environments, we are committed to developing adaptable robots for venturing into complex and unpredictable natural settings. Our research not only leads to the exploration of innovative locomotion, perception, and control strategies but also addresses real-world challenges. Our robots play a pivotal role in environmental monitoring, disaster mitigation, and precision agriculture, contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

We value diversity
In line with , ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.
Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving online applications including:

  • 1-page letter of motivation addressed to Prof. Dr. Stefano Mintchev
  • CV including full publication list
  • copy of the PhD Thesis
  • two reference letters

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 smintchev@ethz.ch (no applications). Review of applications will be on an ongoing basis beginning Nov 1st 2023 and continue until the position is filled.

About ETH Zürich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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