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Empa is the research institute for materials science and technology of the ETH Domain and conducts cutting-edge research for the benefit of industry and the well-being of society.
Empa’s Laboratory of Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles is offering a
PhD position titled: Multiscale mapping of the fruit's lifecycle from flower to fork by physics-based digital twins

Our laboratory. Empa's Simulating Biological Systems Group  aims to reduce food loss in postharvest supply chains by understanding and steering these systems in-silico. We do this by pioneering physics-based modeling at multiple scales, bridging the virtual to the real world by multi-parameter sensing, and creating digital twins that can live together with their real-world counterparts. We are an interdisciplinary team of mechanical, biomedical, and agricultural engineers, food scientists, and environmental scientists.We are part of the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles in Empa's Research Focal Area Health and Performance.

Background. Up to one‐third of the world's plant-based foods are lost on their way from farm to consumer. We still do not exactly understand when or why this postharvest quality loss occurs within each of the hundreds of shipments in a supply chain, let alone how to reduce it. One challenge is that each fruit has its own preharvest physiological history when starting its postharvest journey, depending on the growing and harvest conditions. Another challenge is that no two shipments evolve the same in the cold chain, due to unpredictable technical and logistical conditions and stakeholder handling. These pre-and postharvest factors affect the physical, biochemical, physiological, and microbiological processes in these heat-sensitive products. As a result, the quality of each fruit inside each shipment evolves uniquely before landing on the consumer's table, which we still know little about. The extensive hygrothermal monitoring that is done during agricultural production, postharvest cooling, transport, and storage provides a part of the answer. We currently miss the link between these data and the resulting quality loss for every single fruit inside each cargo.

Objective.This project has the aim to identify where fruit quality loss occurs, to quantify how large this is, and to optimize the supply chain. The work will enable to better identify how individual perishable products react inside a cargo of millions in cold chain unit operations, and to pinpoint why some products decay faster than others. This information will be used to quantify the environmental impact of optimized cold chain solutions.


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A project duration of 3 years is envisaged to carry out the above research tasks in the form of a PhD thesis. The project is supported by Empa under the supervision of Thijs Defraeye, but involves a joint affiliation with Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. The candidate will perform the research at Empa in St. Gallen, but with periodic visits to Wageningen. Desired starting date is 1st of January 2022 or upon mutual Agreement.
For further information about the position please contact Thijs Defraeye thijs.defraeye@empa.ch and visit our websites www.empa.ch/web/simbiosys and www.empa.ch/web/s401 and Empa-Video

We look forward to receiving your online application including a letter of motivation, CV including publications and presentations, diplomas with transcripts and contact details of two referees. Please upload the requested documents through our webpage. Applications via email will not be considered.

Empa, Esther Zürcher, Human Resources, Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, 9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland.