ESO Engineering and Technology Research Fellowships / Studentships

ESO Engineering and Technology Research

Post-doctoral Fellowships, PhD Studentships,
Master Internships in various engineering fields


The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere has as its primary mission to build and operate state-of-the-art facilities for the advancement of astronomical research.  A strong Research & Development (R&D) programme is therefore at the core of ESO's activities.




What are we looking for?

  • Dynamic young individuals ready to take an active part in the ESO R&D projects with a good deal of team spirit, curiosity and eagerness to learn.
  • Currently we have several positions available for:

    • under-graduates students looking for a 5 to 6 month internship in the frame of their engineering or physics studies (master 2 level or equivalent, professional experience or research project),
    • young graduates wanting to do (part of) their PhD at ESO (up to 3 years) in close collaboration with an institute on a new technology research topic, and
    • a post-doctoral fellow, wanting to develop their own research programme for half of their time and to help ESO with its projects for the other half up to (up to 3 years).

What do we offer?

  • A broad range of engineering research subjects and professional experience in software development, data mining, electronics, optics and high-resolution imaging. See below the list of internship and PhD subjects.
  • An international, multi-disciplinary environment, situated on the Garching science campus close to Munich, Germany, next to the best German universities and world-renown research centers: Technical University Munich (TUM), Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) and its observatory, Maier-Leibnitz-Laboratory (MLL), Max-Planck Institutes for Astrophysics (MPA), for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), of Quantum Optics (MPQ), for Plasma Physics (IPP), Walter-Meißner-Institute (WMI), Leibniz Supercomputing center (LRZ) and the Walter-Schottky-Institute.  ESO participates in the Excellence Cluster Universe, also based on the Garching campus.  A very active campus life takes place with many open lectures in all scientific fields.  Garching also attracts the high-tech research centers of worldwide companies like General Electric..  See
  • Working in collaboration with ESO's partner institutes and high-tech industries in the ESO member states.
  • Three observatories at the forefront of ground-based astronomy and of technology: La Silla, Paranal and ALMA. And one of the most challenging telescopes under construction: the Extremely Large Telescope
  • An attractive remuneration package for fellows and PhD students / Decent compensation of living costs for master students.
  • If available, a room in a shared ESO apartment for some months, when you arrive.

What kind of R&D is being done at ESO?

ESO is working on developments in many fields of engineering. Here are some examples of past and current research & development topics:

  • Advanced visible and infra-red detectors: development of new e-APD arrays and CMOS detectors in collaboration with the industry, modeling and advanced testing of the detectors, characterization and optimization, controller development…
  • Sub-millimeter receivers for ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array): development of cryogenic first-stage amplifiers, development of band 2+3 cartridges…
  • Adaptive optics: extreme adaptive optics testbench for exo-planet observation; development of new technologies for deformable mirrors in collaboration with the industry; advanced, extensive AO simulation tools; study and development of new wavefront sensor concepts …
  • Laser guide stars: solid state laser development in collaboration with the industry; testing of the laser guide star return flux; up-link and down-link tip-tilt correction for laser communications in collaboration with ESA; field experiments at la Palma (Canary Islands) …
  • Interferometry: fringe tracking; differential astrometry; data reduction for high angular resolution imaging …
  • Optics and photonics technologies: deflectometry feasibility studies; active phasing experiment; optical metrologies for the characterization at sub-micron level of large scale structures … in our 900 m2 of optical laboratories and integration halls
  • Mechanical engineering: opto-mechanics and cryogeny for astronomical instrumentation and telescopes, finite-element analysis and modeling of large structures including wind, gravity and temperature effects, vibration analysis and fighting…
  • Control software & engineering: PLC controllers for instruments and cryostats, Real Time Computing Systems for adaptive optics and for the ELT …
  • Systems engineering: Prototyping a model-based system engineering (MBSE) approach; verification and commissioning of complex systems; reliability & availability analysis for an VLT or ELT instrument…

The currently funded active R&D projects are:

  • Development of deformable mirrors for future ESO projects, with a very large number of actuators.
  • Development of a detector test bench for advanced and complete testing of the detectors that are being used in ESO instruments.
  • Development of a new generation controller for the ESO visible and infrared detectors.
  • Common Instrument Systems for the ELT: prototypes for the technical visible and infra-red cameras of the ELT, definition of the real time software toolbox.
  • PCS (Planetary Coronograph System) technology development: extreme adaptive optics.
  • Cryo-amplifiers for advanced ALMA receivers.
  • Field experiments with Pyramid WFS and pulsed lasers.
  • Advanced reflective coatings.
  • Large Saphira (e-APDs) Detector.
  • Curved detectors.
  • Laser Frequency Comb for astronomical applications.

Research subjects for Master's, PhD theses and fellowships

The candidates for a master's thesis can choose one (or a couple) of the subjects proposed in Table 1 according to their studies, experience and interests.

It is expected from the PhD studentship candidates that they develop and grow their research plan based on one of the original subjects given in Table 2, in discussion with their supervisor in their home university and with the  ESO supervisor.

We do not propose specific subjects for the fellowship candidates as they have to come with their own original, personal research plan. Of course the candidates are free to take inspiration from the various research topics described here, as we have the infrastructure necessary to support them. But the personal research plan has to show the own ideas, imagination, initiative and structured approach of the candidates.



Master's Thesis topics

Thesis supervisor

Electronics & SW programming    
Migration of ESO detector testbench control software to Python E. Müller    

Commissioning and Verification of FIAT
SW – data mining    

Data driven study of spectroscopic archives using deep neural networks

(Prior experience with CNN training workflows using Pytorch is a must)

N. Sedaghat
SW engineering    
Design and development of a Simulation Framework for test and integration of telescope control systems. N.Kornweibel
Application Framework Code Generation from SysML models N.Kornweibel  
Use and extension of OpenMBEE for use in realizing an Application Framework design in SysML N.Kornweibel  
Construction of a high bandwidth network sniffer based on commodity network cards for the verification of systems on
the ELT real-time control network
Investigate control software architecture alternatives to state machines H. Sommer
Investigate XDP sockets as lightweight alternative to DPDK

H. Sommer

N. Benes

Streaming into VR headsets A. Hoffstadt
Time-keeping in control networks and software M. Schilling

Optical engineering

Testbench for photonic chips O. Pfuhl
STOP analysis (Structural, Thermal and Optical Performance analysis) of astronomical instruments: modelling and testing. P. La Penna
Optical Reverse Optimisation of astronomical instruments. P. La Penna  
Computation of the Strehl ratio of a measured Point Spread Functions.

P. La Penna

J. Kolb

Computation of the atmospheric dispersion effect on the Point Spread Function of a telescope and astronomical instrument P. La Penna
Techniques for precision alignment and modelling of optomechanical systems through laser metrologies S. Lévêque
Optical testing using a Spatial Light Modulator as a Programmable Computer Generated Hologram S. Lévêque
Adaptive optics and laser guide stars    
Atmospheric induced image motion correction, using Laser Guide Stars D. Bonaccini Calia
Low wind effects C. Verinaud
Mechanical engineering    
Study of the correlation between force field measurements, modelling, and as-built characteristics in the ELT M1 segment supports F. Biancat Marchet
Study of the correlation between interferometric tests, force field measurement, modelling, and as built characteristics of
the ELT M1 segments during polishing
M. Cayrel
Integrated modelling of the ELT Positioning Actuators and Edge Sensors F. Biancat Marchet  
Modelling and analysis of mechanical characteristics of thin brazing joints for SiC brazed mirrors of the ELT M. Cayrel  

Multidisciplinary: mechanics, electronics, SW and image analysis

Calibration of high-accuracy robotic fibre positioners with optical methods

F. Delplancke-Ströbele

O. Pfuhl


Table 1: List of subjects (and supervisors) for the Master's theses.



If you are interested in enhancing your early career, please use the ESO recruitment portal and include the following documents:

  • For the internships (master theses):
    • A motivational letter including the desired period of the internship, an outline of why you wish to join ESO (maximum one page), and the subject(s) that have your preference.
    • A Curriculum Vitae.
  • For the PhD studentships:
    • A motivational letter including the desired starting date and duration (1 to 3 years) of the PhD and an outline of why you wish to join ESO  (maximum 1 page).
    • A research plan detailing which PhD subject you would choose and how you plan to address it including a timeline (maximum 2 pages).
    • A Curriculum Vitae (with a list of publications) showing that you (will soon) have the pre-requisites to enter into a PhD degree at your university / home institute.
    • The names and contact details of three persons familiar with your research and/or engineering work and willing to provide a recommendation letter on later request.
    • An intention letter from the potential formal supervisor at your home institute indicating that they are interested in collaborating with ESO on this subject in the frame of a PhD.
    • If selected, before starting your contract, you will be required to provide a letter from your home institute indicating wheter the pre-requisites to obtain a PhD degree have been met and a letter from your formal supervisor at your home institute agreeing with the project plan and guaranteeing financial support (salary, health insurance, travel money) for the part of the PhD done at the home institute
  • For the Fellowships
    • A motivational letter including the desired starting date and an outline of why you wish to join ESO  (maximum 1 page).
    • Your own, personal research plan detailing the subject you would like to develop, its interest for ESO and how you plan to address it including a timeline (maximum 2 pages).
    • A Curriculum Vitae (with a list of publications) including an outline of your technical / practical experience.
    • The names and contact details of three persons familiar with your research and/or engineering work and willing to provide a recommendation letter on later request.
    • It is also recommended to contact the coordinator of the engineering fellowship programme, Dr. Françoise Delplancke-Ströbele, before the application closing date, to check the feasibility of your research plan within ESO infrastructure and possible support.


The closing date for the applications to the PhD studentships and Fellowship is December 13th, 2020. The PhD studentships are expected to start in Q1 or Q3 2021. The Fellowship is expected to start in Q2 2021.

For the internships, the call is open but only a limited number of positions are offered every year.


For any additional questions please contact:

Françoise Delplancke-Ströbele

Tel. +49 89 3200 6510