PhD position : Modeling plant water acquisition processes in heterogeneous soils

The Université catholique de Louvain seeks applicants for a

PhD in the field of soil-root modeling

This PhD position is available in the framework of a 4-yr project called HydraMaize. The position is funded for one year and the applicant will prepare and defend a proposal to extend its funding to 4 yrs. The PhD objective is to investigate how anatomical, physiological and structural changes in the Maize hydraulic architecture affect its capacity to take up water and increase its resilience against drought. This PhD will combine experimental and modeling work with the functional-structural root model R-SWMS.

The HydraMaize project gathers the expertise of three complementary teams which investigate root water uptake from different disciplines and perspectives. The team of François Chaumont investigates the function and regulation of aquaporins in cellular membranes with experimental approaches at the molecular and plant level. The team of Xavier Draye combines experimental and modelling approaches to analyse the regulation and functions of the root system architecture. The team of Mathieu Javaux develops and uses numerical models to capture the complexity of hydraulic processes in the soil-plant system, in combination with soil and geophysical monitoring devices. The host laboratories belong to the to the Earth and Life Institute (ELI).

Your Profile:

  • MSc degree (or equivalent) in biology, soil science, engineering, physics or applied mathematics.
  • Experience in soil physics and/or in modelling of water movement through the soil- plant-atmosphere continuum would be an advantage
  • Ability to work independently in the lab and in the field and motivation to work in an interdisciplinary team.
  • Good written and oral communication skills in English.

Scientific context

Crop production under rainfed conditions is severely limited by soil water deficit, which occurs when water supply from the soil fails to meet the transpiration demand caused by photosynthesis and atmospheric conditions. Available physiological data suggest that there is only a limited scope to reduce the transpiration demand without affecting photosynthesis. Alternatively, the option of improving the plant capacity to extract water from deep soil layers has gained experimental support and is now widely endorsed. Nevertheless, the heterogeneity of soil moisture often goes beyond a simple vertical gradient and it is unknown whether improved exploitation of this heterogeneity might, outperform the current “deep” option. To tackle this question, we need to understand how plants cope with this heterogeneity, by analysing the hydraulic properties of the soil and plant compartments, the spatial geometry of the soil-plant system and the short- and long-term plant responses to the heterogeneity.


The Université catholique de Louvain is the largest university of the French-speaking part of Belgium. It is located in Louvain-la-Neuve, 30 km south of Brussels. One of the most recent towns in Europe, Louvain-la-Neuve is hailed as an achievement, combining modernity with tradition, inspired by the layout of mediaeval university towns.


Applications have to be sent by e-mail to Mathieu Javaux (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Please include a statement describing your research interests, CV, and the names and contact information of two academic/professional referees. Closing date for application is September 30th, 2018.