Vacancy Information

Postdoctoral Researcher - Multiscale Crop Modelling (30 month fixed term contract)


Location: Cambridgeshire
Closing date: 27 Aug 2020
Reference number: T/367

Job details

NIAB is the UK’s fastest growing crop science organisation, with rapidly expanding research capabilities in plant genetics, agronomy, farming systems and data science, the largest national field trials capability, and strong research links with industry, Government and academia. With headquarters in Cambridge, and regional offices across the country, employing around 400 people across the UK, NIAB provides scientific research, technical services and practical advice to improve the yield, efficiency and resilience of crop production across the arable, forage and horticulture sectors.

We are seeking an imaginative Crop Modeler to develop an advanced model of a key glasshouse crop, working at NIAB (a leading UK research institute) in collaboration with a leading data science startup company and a world class horticultural production company.

Multiscale modelling of crops within their environment offers the opportunity to both optimize growing systems to crops and crops to growing systems. Given that food production must rise 50% by 2050, agriculture already accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals and climate change is expected to significantly decrease the yields of field farming - greenhouses are a scalable solution for production of sustainable nutrient dense horticultural crops and are essential to the UK's agricultural future. As part of a flagship project, funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund “Transforming Food Production” our industry partners will develop and demonstrate the world's first Autonomous Growing System (AGS). The AGS will provide optimised data-driven growing for any crop variety, in any greenhouse, in any location - significantly increasing production levels and resource-efficiency in existing greenhouses, and accelerating the deployment of new greenhouses in the UK and around the world.

You should have relevant skills in Plant Architecture Modelling and Source-Sink Relations, specifically:
• Building and Implementing a Functional-Structural Plant Model (FSPM) using OpenAlea/XL/GroIMP/Ecomeristem (or similar) and development of process-based models in crops
• Conversion and registration of point cloud data (using Open CV/PCL or similar)
• Appropriate programming languages and environments (Java, Python, R)

You will be working in a team consisting of geneticists, computational modellers and crop physiologists at NIAB in our Cambridge Crop Research unit. You will also work collaboratively with industrial systems engineers and horticultural growers producing data and participate in the research activities of the project as a whole. You will be expected to contribute your own innovative ideas, resulting in potential independent projects, write scientific research papers and present results at conferences and be comfortable working at the interface of disciplines in a constructive and collaborative manner. Additional guidance from senior data scientists in the Data Sciences department will be provided, which will bring you up to speed on the latest developments in machine learning and AI-based modelling.

The essential requirements for this role are:
• A degree in a Biological, Mathematical and/or Computational science
• PhD in a relevant area
• At least 2 years of work experience (post degree) in developing crop models using FPSM
• Experience in interdisciplinary collaboration
• FSPM programming environments and model construction
• Attention to detail and ability to solve scientific problems
• Work independently or with minimal supervision
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills

The desirable requirements for this role are:
• A PhD in crop modelling
• Background in machine learning/deep learning or requisite mathematical skills to learn
• Image analysis skills
• Crop physiology experience
• Skills in API development, JSON and Kubernetes
• Cloud computing experience
• Ability to work effectively in a collaborative environment
• Enthusiastic to learn and help the scientific community

NIAB has formed an alliance with the University of Cambridge, the Crop Science Centre, to carry out outstanding and impactful science for the equitable and sustainable transformation of agriculture. You would be working as part of the alliance, which receives funding from both national and international sources (e.g. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). In joining NIAB you will be part of the Cambridge landscape of Plant and Crop Sciences, associating with colleagues in the department of Plant Sciences and the Sainsbury Laboratory.

The post is initially available for 30 months, with the possibility of extension subject to available funding. Salary is in the range of £30,342 to £40,036 per annum, depending on experience and qualifications along with 25 days annual leave plus 8 days public holidays, pleasant working environment and eligibility to join the company pension scheme upon appointment. 

Informal enquiries to Dr Richard Harrison-  Further details and an application form are available at: or from the HR Office, NIAB, 93 Lawrence Weaver Rd, Cambridge CB3 0LE, Tel No. 01223 342282, Email:, quoting Ref No. T/367.  Closing date for applications: 27 August 2020 with interviews to be held w/c 7 September 2020 either via Zoom/MS Teams or Face-to-Face.