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​BIOGRIP Soil and Water Node, Stellenbosch University

2-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Available

Soil and Sewerage Sludge Focus

Postdoctoral applicants must have graduated within the last five years


BIOGRIP is the biogeochemistry research infrastructure platform funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) in South Africa. “Biogeochemistry" is the study of how biological, geological, chemical, and physical processes interact to shape natural environments over time and space and the intersection of these natural environments with the human population. It covers a range of interdisciplinary research foci, from the origin and diversification of life, to how anthropogenic drivers alter modern environments, to the response of natural systems to environmental change and how these process and changes impact on human lives. Embedded within BIOGRIP are opportunities for postdoctoral researchers to assist with the fulfilment of BIOGRIP's mandate to develop analytical platforms for biogeochemical research and to conduct research in the many branches of biogeochemistry.


Project Title: Land application of municipal sludges to soils for edible and/or non-edible crop production: A biogeochemical assessment

Scope of Research: This project relates to the land application of water treatment residuals, generated through potable water production, and sewage sludge, generated by wastewater treatment plants in the Cape Town Metropolitan area. The project will assess the environmental risks and agricultural benefits of co-applying these wastes for edible and/or non-edible crop production on marginal land by monitoring the biogeochemical interactions of the plant-soil system.

The scientific objectives of this project include:

  1. Characterisation and screening of municipal sludges from the major wastewater and potable water plants within the City of Cape Town Municipality in terms of geochemical and pathogen risk.
  2. Determining the application ratios and application rates of sludges to maximise plant nutrition and minimise pollutant generation through laboratory incubations and pot trials
  3. Evaluating the associated toxicity and pathogenic risks to the plant-soil system by performing controlled environment plant growth trials

    This study must include translational research outputs that have societal value and impact. These outputs include:
  1. Engaging with the City of Cape Town Municipality to promote wastewater sludge screening to develop a circular economy approach for managing municipal wastes products
  2. Translation of risk/reward evaluations into public service documents for distribution to urban farmers in the Atlantis and Philippi economic zones to counter perceptions of sewerage sludge land application
  3. Engagement with stakeholders, e.g., Scientific Services, City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality and World Wildlife Fund to present a full risk assessment on use of recycled sewage sludge in circular economy in the City of Cape Town urban fringe agricultural regions for example by farmers in the Atlantis and Philippi economic zones.

Host: The postdoctoral fellowship will be imbedded in the DSI-funded BIOGRIP Soil and Water Node at SU and will be jointly hosted by the Department of Soil Science and the Stellenbosch Water Institute. The appointed candidate will be required to engage widely with a range of collaborators and with other BIOGRIP members and stakeholders.

Responsibilities: The appointed postdoctoral candidate will be required to project manage the above scope of work and supervise and train undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as produce peer-reviewed publications and assist BIOGRIP in meeting its deliverables.


  • Must hold a PhD in Microbiology, Soil Science, Environmental Engineering, Geochemistry or similar.
  • Demonstrated experience in handling biological sludges and assessing pathogenic risk of materials
  • Demonstrated experience in working with soils and conducting toxicity testing
  • Demonstrated experience in micropollutant extraction and analysis from soils and sludges
  • Must be willing to engage with stakeholders, such as City of Cape town and local urban farmers
  • Demonstrated track record of publication in peer-reviewed international journals commensurate with experience.
  • Although not essential, it would be beneficial to have some experience in postgraduate training and supervision.


Please note that postdoctoral fellows are not appointed as employees and are therefore not eligible for employee benefits. Postdoctoral fellowships are also awarded tax-free.   

Commencement of duties: As soon as possible

Closing date: 11 December 2020

Enquiries: Send a letter of application, accompanied by a comprehensive curriculum vitae, including list of publications and the names and contact details of at least two referees, to Dr Janine Colling, the manager of the SU BIOGRP node at

Applicants should request their referees to forward confidential reports by the closing date directly to the same email address.​