Open Positions

We are looking for M.S. students! See below for open research topics:

Masters Theses in the Rock Deformation Laboratory

Structural Geology and Tectonics Group @ ETH Zurich

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Leif Tokle (email)

Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Whitney Behr

The goal of the rock deformation lab is to understand and constrain micromechanical processes and their application to large-scale tectonic processes such as plate boundary shear zones and planetary dynamics. To do this we conduct high pressure and temperature deformation experiments, together with a variety of microstructural analyses. Masters projects can involve characterizing mechanical relationships (flow laws), understanding the effect of secondary phases on the rheology of a polyphase rock, or understanding the influence of extrinsic and intrinsic variables (Temperature, pressure, stress, strain rate, fluid content, grain size) affect a minerals mechanical properties.

Potential M.S. Projects*

  • Developing a diffusion creep flow law for either muscovite or biotite
  • Effect of muscovite on the brittle-ductile transition in a micaceous quartzite
  • Effect of fluid chemistry on quartz-muscovite aggregates
  • Quantifying the viscous anisotropy of a foliated blueschist
  • Characterizing the effect of stress pulses (simulated earthquakes) on quartz microstructures

*For more detailed information on these projects, contact Leif Tokle.

General Tasks

-Conduct rock deformation experiments (trained by Leif Tokle)

-Microstructural analysis (petrographic and electron microscopy)

-Processing and integrating mechanical data

Masters Thesis linking Geochemistry and Structure on Syros Island, Greece

Structural Geology and Tectonics Group @ ETH Zurich                      

Primary supervisor: Dr. Jesús Muñoz-Montecinos (email)                             

Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Whitney Behr                

Project Motivation

Subduction zones are regions where chemical changes due to fluid-rock interaction (i.e., metasomatism) affect the rheological properties of the shear zone. This process results in a variety of deformation patterns that could be associated with the weakening of the subduction megathrust and a variety of fault slip styles. Nowadays, indirect evidence of deformation and fluid-rock interaction processes is obtained through seismological and experimental investigations, but key insights into that deep environment are obtained by studying now-exhumed high-pressure metamorphic rocks. This Master’s thesis aims to characterize the products of fluid rock interaction in exhumed high-pressure metamorphic rocks and to document how metasomatic processes affected the distribution of strain within the metamorphic pile. In this case, the study locality corresponds to the Syros Island. There, lithological layers, apparently formed due to fluid-rock interactions, occur parallel to the host mafic lithologies. Interestingly, these layers show reaction haloes towards the host-rock lithologies and a distinctive structural fabric. However, the mechanisms of fluid rock-interactions that could have produced these metasomatic layers, as well as their distinctive structural fabric are not yet understood.

Research Objectives

  • Characterize the fluid-rock interaction processes in order to understand the metamorphic reactions that would have formed the metasomatic mineral association and determine what would have been its protolith. In addition, the possible fluid sources and fluid circulation pathways would also be studied.
  • Quantify the fluid-rock interaction processes using thermodynamic modelling approaches.
  • Study the deformation mechanisms and their micro- and meso-scale implications on the deformation of the entire metamorphic stack and possible implications on subduction zone processes.


  • Skills to work with the petrographic microscope
  • Motivation for field work (this project involves a field trip to the Syros Island, Greece)
  • Experience in structural geology and petrology as well as motivation to learn new techniques

Figure 1. Field photographs showing a diversity of structures and lithologies at the study locality. A. Overview of metamorphic vein systems, greenschist and chloritite rocks. B. Detail view of a metasomatic chloritite layer within a greenschist. Note that the deformation patterns are distinct relative to the adjacent lithology.

Masters Theses on 4D, multi-scale analyses of faults and shear zones

Structural Geology and Tectonics Group @ ETH Zurich           

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Alberto Ceccato (email)

Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Whitney Behr

The geometry of faults and shear zones controls the strength and the permeability of the lithosphere, thus affecting seismicity and the distribution of mineral (ore) and water resources (hydrology) throughout the crust.

In this Master Thesis, you will explore how the geometry of faults and ductile shear zones evolve in space and through time. We will work together on the multi-scale characterization of brittle faults and ductile shear zones in crystalline units of the Alps. You will integrate the results of robust field geology with cutting-edge analytical investigations and 3D digital geological modelling at multiple scales, from the thin section to the outcrop, and to the orogen scale. 

The final goals of the Master Thesis are 

1) to understand the evolution in time and space of the geometry of deformation zones; 

2) to analyze the relationships between the evolving geometry and the geology, petrophysics, and rheology/mechanics of deformation zones; 

3) to provide geologically-sound, 4D (=3D+time) fault/shear zones models and discuss their implications on strain localization, earthquake mechanics, ore mineralization, etc.

General tasks

  • Field structural analyses of selected faults and shear zones
  • Elaboration of 3D geological and structural models from photogrammetry (LiDAR/iPad – Drone; Leapfrog)
  • Microanalytical investigations (optical microscopy, electron microscopy/spectroscopy, geochronology);
  • Matlab/R/FracPaQ/Perple_X modelling depending on the chosen topic.

Proposed topics for Master thesis

Tectonic inheritance controls on the geometry and mechanics of faults and ductile shear zones.

Origin and fate of mineralized ductile shear zone: relationship between deformation and mineral resources.

Multi-scale, field and statistical analyses of networks of faults and shear zones in crystalline basement of the Alps.

Automated fault zone detection from 3D point clouds with deep learning (in collaboration with Dr. Alexis Shakas).

Masters Theses in structural geology combined with petrochronology – from the field- to the thin section-scale

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Silvia Volante (email)

Co-supervisors: Dr. Leif Tokle and Prof. Dr. Whitney Behr

Structural Geology and Tectonics Group at ETH Zürich

To investigate complex collisional orogens earth scientists are challenged by the ability to interrogate the poorly preserved rock record through continuous development and application of novel, multi-scales, and interdisciplinary approaches. We combine structural and petrological field mapping together with a variety of in-situ microanalytical analyses. Master projects can involve structural mapping, microstructural analysis, mineral chemistry of major (e.g., garnet, mica) and accessory minerals (e.g., monazite, zircon, rutile, titanite), and geochronological and geochemical (i.e., petro-chronology) analysis to constrain the timing of key metamorphic minerals defining the mapped structures. All this information can be tied together to reconstruct the tectono-metamorphic history of rocks within young, Phanerozoic (e.g., the Alps) or older, Precambrian (e.g., SW Greenland) orogens.

Potential M.S.c Projects*

●  Multi-scale petro-structural characterisation of eclogites and grt-schists from the Tauern Window (Eastern Alps) – (fieldwork possible summer 2023 or 2024) 

●  Multi-scale petro-structural characterisation of the Sorø Shear Zone Belt in SW Greenland

– (fieldwork possible summer 2024) 

●  Multi-scale petro-structural characterisation of hornblenditic pods in Archean granitoids of the Barberton Mainland (Kaapvaal Craton, South Africa) – (fieldwork possible summer 2023–still to confirm) 

*For more detailed information on these projects, contact Silvia Volante (link)

General Tasks

–    Literature review of the chosen topic

–    Fieldwork in the chosen study area 

–    Microanalytical investigations and data processing (optical microscope, electron micro probe analyser- EPMA, secondary electron microscope – SEM to acquire compositional maps of accessory and major minerals, LA-ICPMS)

–    Integration of acquired data and interpretations