PhD opening in preservation of stone-built cultural heritage

100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Chair for Physical Chemistry of Building Materials has one opening for a PhD position on the topic of built heritage preservation focused on clay-bearing sandstones. This PhD is part of the collaborative ETH Grant “PROTECTING SANDSTONE MONUMENTS” which aims at improving the preservation of clay-bearing sandstone monuments. The selected student will collaborate with other PhD candidates funded in the scheme and will be employed at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering.

Project background

Clay-bearing sandstones are found around the world and are well-known for their poor durability. This poses a particular problem in the Swiss plateau, as such stones are the fabric of our most important historical monuments, in particular, the cathedrals in Lausanne, Fribourg and Bern, the Castle of Chillon, but also many historic masonry homes.

This collaborative grant capitalizes on recent research including the development of novel sensors for the onsite monitoring of moisture changes and water movement, both on and within the stone. It also benefits from a unique laboratory testing facility to reproduce critical climatic cycles, allowing a full characterization of heat and mass transfer properties of these materials under well-controlled, but practice-relevant, conditions.

Through a multidisciplinary approach, the project will develop predictive tools capable of assessing the development of damage in response to local climate variations. This will enable a more effective design and execution of conservation interventions grounded in material science and accounting for the microclimate of the local exposure conditions.

Job description

You will focus on material issues. This involves the use of various sensors to be installed on-site to describe the occurrence of extreme weathering conditions. Further to this, an important part of your work will involve testing in the laboratory, using in particular a specially designed artificial ageing device, to produce accelerated but realistic ageing of the sandstones. It is expected that you will also be able to engage with advanced data analysis and visualization tools, to develop a data-driven model to account for damage risks and water movements on the cathedral of Lausanne, the 2nd most important gothic monument in Europe. This rendering will enable an augmented and detailed inspection of the monument’s behaviour about its highly complex geometry and will be supported by the Immersive Design Lab team.

Your profile

You should have a keen interest, or preferably experience in heritage science. Additionally, you should hold a Masters's degree in preservation science, material science, chemistry, chemical engineering, civil engineering, geomatic engineering or architecture.

In any case, good experimental skills are a must. An excellent oral and written level in English is essential. Conversational knowledge of German is an advantage, but the desire to learn it is a must.

As the project involves collaboration between several groups in addition to field practitioners, very good communication skills and willingness to collaborate with other researchers are essential.

Your workplace

We offer

The Chair of Physical Chemistry of Building Materials within the Institute for Building Materials offers many chances for jump-starting an academic or industrial research career in cement and concrete technology, with a strong basis in materials chemistry and rheology. Our highly diverse and international group also offers many networking opportunities through academic societies such as RILEM, industry connections, as well as internal ETH connections. We are committed to diversity by allowing flexibility in working hours, home office, and other measures to ensure team members can adequately perform their roles.

Working, teaching and research at ETH Zurich

We value diversity

In line with our values, 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 Equal Opportunities and Diversity website 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 your online application with the following documents:

  • Cover letter
  • CV
  • Names and contact information (email address) of three references

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information about the Physical Chemistry of Building Materials can be found on our website. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Dr Timothy Wangler, Tel +41 44 633 2943 or email (no applications).

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.