Space Research & Planetary Sciences (WP)


Professor Theoretical Planetology 100%

The Space Research and Planetology Division within the Physics Institute of the University of Bern has an opening, as per 1 January 2022, for a full or associate professor (100%) in the field of

Theoretical Planetology

The University of Bern hosts one of the leading research groups in Europe in the field of theoretical planetology and is looking for a candidate at the level of full professor or associate professor (according to qualifications) in numerical modelling of the formation and evolution of planetary systems or a related field. The successful candidate is expected to develop a strong research group that will complement existing research activities both at the University and within the Swiss and international landscapes. He/she will also teach at BSc. and MSc. level, including lecturing basic physics courses in German. Non-German speakers will be given the necessary time to become competent in the language. The successful candidate will be part of a vibrant division and institute interacting in research, education, and administration as a member of the physics faculty. We expect a strong academic record including successful acquisition of third-party funds and a strong international network in research, as well as excellent social skills.

The University of Bern aims to increase the proportion of women in academic positions and therefore strongly encourages female scientists to apply. Applications proposing job sharing will also be considered.

Remuneration is in accordance with the personnel regulations of the Canton of Bern.

Applications should include

  • Letter of motivation with Curriculum Vitae
  • List of publications and courses taught
  • List of third-party funds raised
  • Information on further academic (including science management) activities
  • Research plan for the first 5 years

The application documents must be submitted by 01.10.2020 electronically in a single PDF file (<10 MB) to the Dean’s Office (email:, Universität Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, 3012 Bern, SWITZERLAND and submit the completed online questionnaire: Questionnaire Applicants Theoretical Planetology (PDF, 160KB)

The contact person for additional information is Prof. Nicolas Thomas, Director of the Physics Institute, (

Additional information

The University of Bern is one of the leading Cantonal universities in Switzerland and currently ranked 114 in the QS rankings (2021). It is located in the capital of Switzerland almost directly above the main railway station allowing very easy access to the Swiss transport network. Within the University strategy (Strategy 2021) there are 5 major scientific themes ( including “Matter and the Universe” which is seen as a particular strength of the University. Physics in general and the Physics Institute contribute to this and other themes within the University strategy.

The successful candidate will be a member of the Physics Institute within the Division for Space and Planetology (WP) and will be the successor of Prof. Willy Benz. WP is the leading planetary sciences institute in Switzerland ( and participates in a large number of European Space Agency and NASA missions. The division has a long history of successful experimentation extending back to the provision of the solar wind foil experiment on Apollo 11. Involvements have recently expanded to include participation in JAXA, ISRO, and Roskosmos-led programmes. Two experimental groups are led by Prof. Nicolas Thomas (remote sensing experiments) and Prof. Peter Wurz (in situ neutral and ion mass spectrometers). These groups focus on the development of novel experiments for flight on the spacecraft missions of several agencies such as ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA. The remote sensing experiments provide access to information about the surfaces and interiors of planets, planetary satellites and small bodies. The mass spectrometers are used to determine the composition of planetary atmospheres, planetary and satellite exospheres, cometary outgassing and interstellar gas. These two fields provide input to the theoretical team, currently led by Prof. Willy Benz, which models aspects of the observations and places them in the context of their implications for the formation, evolution and habitability of our and other solar systems. It is to be noted that while the advertised position is focused on Theoretical Planetology, this would not preclude participation in future spacecraft missions as illustrated by Prof. Willy Benz’s leadership of the CHEOPS mission.

The Division is currently engaged in developing and completing hardware for ESA’s JUICE mission to Jupiter, having the BepiColombo mission on its way to Mercury, and operating CaSSIS instrument on the Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars and the CHEOPS exoplanet mission, analysing these data and data from the HiRISE (MRO), IBEX, HIS (Solar Orbiter), ROSINA (Rosetta), and OSIRIS (Rosetta) experiments and preparing for future missions such as the IVO and Europa Clipper missions to the Jupiter system.

WP is linked to the Center for Space and Habitability ( whose Director is Prof. Kevin Heng and to the NCCR PlanetS (, whose Director is Prof. Willy Benz and Co-Director Prof. Stéphane Udry (University of Geneva). The CSH supports and exploits interdisciplinary activities in fields such as machine learning, biomedical applications, internal geodynamics, and philosophy. The NCCR (PlanetS) will run until 2026 and we expect the new professor to play an important role in the NCCR at an early stage. Details on the implementation of a Swiss Institute of Planetary Sciences (SIPS) as a legacy of the NCCR are still being discussed and we would expect the new professor to participate in the design and implementation of SIPS.

The structure and configuration of the units is shown in the figure.

Workshop and laboratories

WP has access to a mechanical workshop under the responsibility of the Physics Institute. The workshop has numerous computer-controlled milling machines, lathes, spark erosion machines, welding machines and vacuum equipment. It is at a standard sufficient to manufacture components for space missions. The parts can be cleaned, assembled and tested according to the requirements set by ESA and other space agencies. The machines represent an investment of >60’000 CHF p.a. over the last 10-12 years from internal and university resources.

WP also has access to the high performance computing capabilities offered by the University.

WP currently houses a design office with a 3-dimensional CATIA CAD/CAM/CAE system with 6 interconnected workstations.

WP currently supports

  • The large laboratory in which our vibration, thermal-vacuum and CASYMIR test facilities are located
  • The CHEOPS laboratory, which houses our most modern thermal-vacuum facility in an ISO 5 environment.
  • The CaSSIS laboratory is an ISO 5 clean room with optical test equipment and is currently used as integration room for flight hardware.
  • A large clean room for integration and testing.
  • BELA laboratory, an ISO 5 clean room with special equipment for testing the laser altimeter on BepiColombo.
  • The MEFISTO laboratory, which houses the MEFISTO ion beam system.
  • The meteorite laboratory, in which large-area mass spectrometers for noble gas analysis are housed.
  • The B28 laboratory, which houses clean room benches and the test area of the laser ablation mass spectrometer.
  • The electronics laboratory, which includes offices and clean workbenches for the integration and testing of avionics for space missions.
  • The Ice Laboratory, which includes equipment for the production of highly controlled ice samples and their characterization under vacuum using numerous in-situ and remote sensing techniques.

WP currently has the following equipment

  • A large cluster for numerical calculations independent of the University facilities.
  • Calibration system CASYMIR with gas mixing system for mass spectrometer.
  • Large ultra high vacuum ion mass spectrometer calibration unit CASYMS.
  • Ion mass spectrometer calibration unit MEFISTO, with ECR and high temperature ion sources
  • Ultra-high vacuum system ILENA, with highly sensitive current measuring device for tests and conversion areas
  • Laser mass spectrometry laboratory
  • 4 remote-controlled 2-axis translators for detector positioning in ultra-high vacuum
  • 3-axis magnetic field imaging system
  • High voltage partial discharge measuring system
  • High precision integrating sphere for flat field, linearity and intensity calibrations
  • Monochromator with halogen illumination
  • Lens based collimator with 1 m focal length and 100 mm aperture
  • Optical benches with large (>80 cm diameter) mirrors for test purposes
  • 2 large thermal vacuum chambers for environmental testing of space experiments
  • Vibration test facility
  • Wide beam (30 cm), high intensity (7 solar constants), sun simulator
  • Large and small thermal test chambers including the ice simulation chamber SCITEAS-2
  • A low temperature photogoniometer system, an optical coherence tomography instrument, a pycnometer and an infrared spectral imaging system for ice characterization.

Cooperation in the relocation of resources in line with needs is a key component of WP’s activities contributing to its success.