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Research Associate Scientist in Modeling Plant Soil Interactions

Date: Sep 14, 2021

Location: Oak Ridge, TN, US, 37830

Company: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Requisition Id 6387 


The Earth Systems Science section (ESS) within the Environmental Sciences Division (ESD),, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL),, is seeking an individual with a passion for studying the natural world, motivated to take on the challenge of furthering mechanistic understanding of plant-microbe-soil carbon and nutrient dynamics and the role of functional diversity in shaping these dynamics. You will be developing and using advanced modeling techniques and modeling systems such as the Multi-Assumption Architecture and Testbed (MAAT) and the Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator (FATES). These models will serve as mechanistic systems hypotheses that provide an internally consistent and quantitative organizing principle to guide research questions. Developing the empirical basis for better understanding plant-microbe-soil carbon and nutrient dynamics and developing the models will also be a component of the role.


ESD is an interdisciplinary research and development organization with more than 60 years of achievement in local, regional, national, and international environmental research. Our vision is to expand scientific knowledge and develop innovative strategies and technologies that will strengthen the nation’s leadership in creating solutions to help sustain the Earth’s natural resources. Our scientists conduct research, develop technology, and perform analyses to understand and assess responses of environmental systems at the environment-human interface and the consequences of alternative energy and environmental strategies.


The ESS section is world-renowned for large-scale experimental manipulations and is currently leading the US DOE flagship ‘Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments’ (SPRUCE) field experiment ( ESD staff also lead the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE) Arctic project (, and we are an integral partner in the NGEE Tropics research project ( We also lead the Critical Interfaces Science Focus Area (CI-SFA,, which investigates the role of hydrology on the transformation of redox-sensitive elements, such as mercury, in a flowing stream system. ESS staff also lead the development of multiple land system components in the US DOE Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM,


Major Duties/Responsibilities:

Modeling plant nutrient acquisition and soil organic matter formation and decomposition remains challenged by a lack of mechanistic understanding and data relating to function. Measurement of root-related processes is also challenging. For this reason the physiological realism of below-ground resource acquisition and soil organic matter formation has lagged behind that of above-ground resource acquisition in model representations. The goal of this position will be to develop tractable physiological understanding of essential below-ground processes to redress the imbalance in complexity of ecosystem models across ecosystem processes.


The role is intended to be flexible to allow the successful candidate to explore her or his interests with the goal of the successful candidate developing their own research program within the lab environment.


You will be joining a diverse team of empirical and modeling ecosystem ecologists, working at the cutting edge of above-and-below-ground resource interactions. Collaboration within and outside of the lab will be essential to the success of this position. The role will involve the opportunity to travel and work with many world-class partner research groups. For more information please contact Anthony Walker ( | 865 576 9365).


Qualifications Required:

  • PhD in ecology, botany, or related field
  • Experience in experiment design, data collation, synthesis, analysis, and management
  • Excellent written and oral communication
  • Excellent inter-personal skills
  • Willingness to travel to conferences and remote field locations
  • A proven track record of publication in leading peer-reviewed journals
  • Self-motivation and goal setting
  • Ability to work and communicate as part of a diverse and distributed team
  • Experience in multi-assumption modeling, ideally with MAAT
  • Programming skills in R and FORTRAN
  • Passion for understanding the natural world


Desirable skills are:

  • Model development in a large terrestrial ecosystem model
  • Model development from scratch
  • Strong mathematical ability


Applications should include a cover letter and a CV with a full list of publications and a list of three referees.



This position will remain open for a minimum of 5 days after which it will close when a qualified candidate is identified and/or hired.

We accept Word (.doc, .docx), Adobe (unsecured .pdf), Rich Text Format (.rtf), and HTML (.htm, .html) up to 5MB in size. Resumes from third party vendors will not be accepted; these resumes will be deleted and the candidates submitted will not be considered for employment.

If you have trouble applying for a position, please email

ORNL is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants, including individuals with disabilities and protected veterans, are encouraged to apply.  UT-Battelle is an E-Verify employer.

Nearest Major Market: Knoxville