PhD Student

Last application date
Apr 30, 2024 00:00
TW14 - Department of Structural Engineering and Building Materials
Limited duration
MSc in Structural or Civil Engineering
Occupancy rate
Vacancy type
Research staff

Job description

The Department of Structural Engineering and Building Materials of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, at Ghent University currently is looking for a PhD Researcher on the following topic (and granted project):

Development of bio-receptive and printable cementitious materials to allow for oyster reef creation on marine infrastructure (REEFCOVERY project)


Driven by the EU legislation and governmental interest worldwide, nature-inclusive-design (NID) solutions targeting nature conservation and restoration, are becoming crucial in marine infrastructure projects. Such an example are NIDs based on European flat oysters which are ecosystem engineers creating reefs that provide shelter, food and breeding habitats to a wide range of marine species. Oyster reefs used to be widely present in Europe, however, fishing and harvesting has destroyed most of these reefs thereby suppressing their important ecosystem role. Nevertheless, although recovery of flat oyster beds is an important objective for the Belgian Natura 2000 management plan, no systematic and operational framework exists yet for the development of large-scale flat oyster NIDs.

On the other hand, offshore marine infrastructure, such as wind parks and artificial islands, provide new opportunities because they can serve as suitable locations for oyster reef restoration or creation, as part of their NID. However, methodologies for offshore flat oyster reef restoration or creation integrated in marine infrastructure, and at the same time applicable to the Belgian part of the North Sea, do not exist yet.

In view of the knowledge gaps which currently hinder large-scale flat oyster reef restoration, creation and integration in offshore marine infrastructure, the REEFCOVERY project has been recently introduced. As such, new knowledge will be generated that is crucial to overcome current scientific and technological challenges related to the understanding, design, installation, survivability, maintenance and monitoring of these reef ecosystems.

REEFCOVERY will generate new knowledge which is essential for the creation of large-scale European flat oyster NID solutions for offshore marine infrastructure. The goal of this project is to scientifically substantiate the design of a variety of oyster NIDs with a strong potential to be applied on an industrial scale in future offshore marine projects – going well beyond the current state of the art. As such, REEFCOVERY will deal with the main fundamental questions that are crucial for: i) the successful colonisation and reduction of flat oyster spat mortality rate of newly created flat oyster reefs, and ii) the facilitation of large-scale restoration interventions. Consequently, the target of REEFCOVERY is to investigate all conditions that are necessary to ‘kick-start’ self-sustaining large-scale flat oyster reefs in North Sea conditions. The oyster NIDs which will be investigated within REEFCOVERY will support future large-scale restoration of habitats and marine ecosystem functioning.

In order to ensure successful application of large-scale oyster NIDs four main “Research Lines” (RL) have been defined in REEFCOVERY: (RL1) innovative materials that are suitable for biocolonisation, (RL2) structural lay-out and hydrodynamic performance, which enable structures to keep their functionality while supporting reef formation, (RL3) oyster inoculation techniques which will kickstart reef formation on offshore structures, and (RL4) offshore implementation which will enable installation of NIDs at a large scale. Finally, the following aspects will be evaluated: ecological gain, survivability of the reefs, and reef operational efficiency and effective installation. A selection of key performance indicators will be used to validate the overall performance of the implemented NID solutions, while a dedicated field monitoring program is planned to evaluate a set of environmental goals and delivered ecosystem services.

Within the REEFCOVERY project, the PhD researcher affiliated with the Department of Structural Engineering and Building Materials will develop (printable) cementitious materials with (1) high bioreceptivity, (2) low environmental impact, (3) high resistance against a marine environment, (4) high impact resistance and (5) enhanced bond to substrates. In order to vary the micro roughness of the material, different print parameters will be investigated. To realize and vary the macro roughness, different nozzle geometries of the 3D print equipment will be studied and compared. Realization of complex surface structures with inserts creating ecological niches, will be obtained through employment of a UGent patented technology. Subsequently, materials will be validated through chemical durability experiments and physical durability tests. The reef designs put forward by the project partners will be further adapted to allow them to be sliced and 3D printed, targeting effective and efficient integration in the field experiments site.


The Magnel-Vandepitte Laboratory at the Department of Structural Engineering and Building Materials of Ghent University is the largest Belgian research center in the field of concrete technology and concrete structures and has a vast and widely-spread international recognition. The research areas focus on different aspects of concrete structures, going from fundamental material research on microscopic and sub-microscopic scale to structural behaviour and structural reliability of concrete structures on large scale. The Magnel-Vandepitte Laboratory disposes of extensive experimental testing facilities and infrastructures, among which the large strong floor for executing load tests on large-scale elements is a unique instrument.


The REEFCOVERY project is a funded VLAIO ICON project (“Interdisciplinair Coöperatief onderzoek”). The project will be performed in collaboration with the project partners: Jan De Nul nv; DEME; ResourceFull; UGent-Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Department of Animal Sciences and Aquatic Ecology, Laboratory of Aquaculture & Artemia Reference Center and UGent-Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Department of Civil engineering, Coastal Engineering Laboratory.


  • We offer a full-time position as a doctoral fellow, consisting of an initial period of 12 months, which - after a positive evaluation, will be extended to a total maximum of 48 months in a high-level international research team at Ghent University. The candidate will have the possibility to attend international conferences, follow specialized courses and to develop a national and international scientific and industrial network.
  • Your contract will start on 1 May 2024 at the earliest.
  • The fellowship amount is 100% of the net salary of an AAP member in equal family circumstances. The individual fellowship amount is determined by the Department of Personnel and Organization based on family status and seniority. A grant that meets the conditions and criteria of the regulations for doctoral fellowships is considered free of personal income tax. Click here for more information about our salary scales
  • All Ghent University staff members enjoy a number of benefits, such as a wide range of training and education opportunities, 36 days of holiday leave (on an annual basis for a full-time job) supplemented by annual fixed bridge days, bicycle allowance and eco vouchers. Click here for a complete overview of all the staff benefits (in Dutch)

Job profile


Applicants should have a MSc in Structural or Civil Engineering (or another MSc leading to sufficient knowledge on the topics of relevance), an independent and well-organized working style, well-developed social skills directed towards working in an interdisciplinary team, strong motivation to succeed in scientific research, excellent presentation and scientific writing skills and excellent English language skills (verbally and written). Experience with 3D printing of concrete or bio-receptive concrete is an added value.

How to apply


Applications must contain the following documents:

  • a personal (motivation) letter and curriculum vitae,
  • a copy of degree certificates and associated certificates,
  • a transcript of records of the bachelor and master curriculum,
  • a copy of degree projects and any previous publications,
  • a proof of English language skills,
  • two recommendation letters (or the names and email addresses of two references).

The documents should be sent before 30 April 2024 to with in the title of the mail a clear reference to this vacancy.

As Ghent University maintains an equal opportunities and diversity policy, everyone is encouraged to apply for this position.