PhD position in numerical modelling of nanoplastic pollution in the ocean (1.0 FTE)

Onderwijs en onderzoek
Uren per week: 
38 tot 38
Faculteit of dienst: 
Faculteit Betawetenschappen
Department of Physics, Physical Oceanography
Uiterlijk reageren op: 


The amount of plastic in our ocean is growing rapidly, with estimates of more than 5 million metric tonnes of plastic reaching the ocean each year. This plastic infiltrates the ocean food web and thus poses a major threat to marine life. However, the understanding of the distribution, pathways and fate of plastic once in the ocean is very limited.

Plastic particles on the scales of nanometers are particularly elusive; these particles have been observed in the ocean but their origin, structure and fate is unknown. In an inherently interdisciplinary project, chemists, biologists and physicists aim to map and better understand these elusive particles that can do so much harm.

You will work within the new project, focusing specifically on the numerical simulation of nanoplastic transport in the ocean. Combining High Performance Computing with advanced data science techniques, the goal of the PhD is to determine the most likely origin of the nanoplastic particles found during the fieldwork in the Atlantic Ocean.

During the project, you will be involved in:

  • developing numerical simulations of nanoplastics based on the framework;
  • using Bayesian statistics to back-track likely sources of nanoplastic particles;
  • collaborating with the other PhDs and Postdocs in the project to integrate the numerical modelling results with the fieldwork and labwork done at NIOZ and in the chemistry groups;
  • (optionally) participating in ocean-going fieldwork to sample nanoplastics in the Atlantic Ocean.

At the end of the PhD project, you will have:

  • a deep understanding of the scale of the problem of global plastic pollution;
  • advanced skills in numerical modelling and data analysis in python;
  • the skills to communicate your scientific results to a wide audience including peers, media and the general public.


Our ideal candidate has a driven and collaborative spirit and:

  • an MSc in Physics, Computer Science, Applied Mathematics or a similar field;
  • strong skills in python programming;
  • the ability to cooperate within a wider and interdisciplinary research team;
  • an excellent level of written and spoken English.

Preferably you also have a proven affinity with physical oceanography and experience with software development practices such as version control and unit-testing. In addition, you bring along strong skills in advanced data science.


  • a position for 4 years;
  • a full-time gross salary starting for PhD students at €2,325 and increasing to €2,972 per month during the appointment (scale P);
  • benefits including 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao).

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment yourself via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.

Over de organisatie

You will work at the Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research at the Department of Physics of Utrecht University, and then specifically within the Lagrangian Ocean Analysis group. This group, led by Dr Erik van Sebille, works on creating simulations of the transport of material (plastics, plankton, fish) by ocean currents and its impact on climate and marine ecosystems. Within the group, we adhere to Open Science principles and aim to create a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere.

At the Faculty of Science there are 6 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 which work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our familiar atmosphere and the can-do attitude of our people. This fundamental connection attracts Researchers, Professors and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.

Aanvullende informatie

If you have any questions, please contact Dr Erik van Sebille via

Do you have questions about the application procedure? Send an email to


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, please apply via the “Apply” button!

Please enclose:

  • a letter of motivation;
  • your curriculum vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references.

If this specific opportunity is not for you, but you know someone who may be interested, please forward the link to them.

Please note: Due to the current situation regarding the Corona virus (COVID-19) the process of selection and interviews is subject to change.

Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them

Uiterlijk reageren op 13 juni 2020.