PhD project offered by the IMPRS-gBGC in Jan 2024


Fighting drought - Improving soil properties through artificial carbonaceous substances

Markus Lange , Thorsten Schäfer , Gerd Gleixner

Project description

Agriculture is highly dependent on fertile soils. However, agricultural systems are also the main cause of soil and environmental degradation. In particular, the hydrological function of the soil, such as water holding capacity, is impaired by agricultural use and cultivation. This degradation in turn inhibits microorganisms that, for example, regulate the nutrient cycle, break down organic matter, determine soil structure and plant productivity. The addition of artificially produced carbonaceous substances to the soil is one way of counteracting soil degradation. Carbonaceous substances increase the water holding capacity, nutrient binding and nutrient recovery by the soil microbial community, so that a sustainably high productivity is likely.
This project, conducted in collaboration with an organic farm, aims to quantify the impact of artificial carbonaceous substances on plant productivity. We will investigate i) which physical soil properties are improved by their application of these substances, produced from fermentation residues, ii) how biological activity is influenced, ultimately responsible for plant nutrient utilization and organic matter storage in the soil, and iii) whether artificial carbonaceous substances from fermentation residues increase nutrient utilization compared to untreated residues.
The PhD candidate will analyze the impact of artificial carbonaceous substances on physical soil properties (e.g., water holding capacity), the activity and composition of the soil microbial community, the nutrient recovery and nutrient status of the soil, and the plant productivity. This will be achieved through repeated field measurements and an accompanied isotopic tracer experiment to investigate the nutrient and carbon flows between soil microorganisms and plants.

Working group

Molecular Biogeochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry


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 biogeochemistry, environmental science, geosciences, (geo-) ecology, biology, hydrology or other disciplines related to environmental sciences
  • Lab skills
    • experiences in mass spectrometry (GC-MS, isotopes measurements) are mandatory,
    • experiences with lipid biomarker are of advantage,
  • Computational skills
    • skills in statistics an in data-science and programming (R, Matlab, or Python) are of advantage,
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English, knowledge of German is an asset
The Max Planck Society (MPS) strives for gender equality and diversity. The MPS aims to increase the proportion of women in areas where they are underrepresented. Women are therefore explicitly encouraged to apply. We welcome applications from all fields. The Max Planck Society has set itself the goal of employing more severely disabled people. Applications from severely disabled persons are expressly encouraged.

>> more information about the IMPRS-gBGC + application