Roman Stocker

Professor of Groundwater and Hydromechanics,
ETH Zurich

Short Bio:
Roman Stocker is a professor of environmental engineering at ETH Zurich. He is Italian, grew up in Nigeria, Yemen and Venice, and graduated from the University of Padova, where he studied engineering and fluid mechanics before completing his Ph.D. on the mathematical modeling and field observation of internal waves in lakes. From 2002 to 2005, he was an instructor in applied mathematics at MIT, where he then became an assistant professor in Environmental Engineering. In 2015, he moved to ETH. Roman pioneered a new approach to microbial ecology, based on the combination of microfluidics, video microscopy and mathematical modeling, which allowed him to address a long-standing challenge in oceanography: the need to study marine microbes quantitatively at the single-cell level and with explicit consideration of the highly dynamic processes that shape their lives. This microscale, mechanistic understanding is then used to better understand the myriad of ecological and biogeochemical impacts that microorganisms have at ocean scale. 

Roman’s research group, which brings together engineers, physicists, biologists and mathematicians, uses quantitative experiments in the laboratory and in the field in combination with individual-based and continuum models to understand microscale processes in the ocean, including microbial motility and sensing, the role of microbes in the marine carbon cycle, harmful algal blooms, coral disease, oil degradation, viral infection and bacteria–phytoplankton interactions. Roman has brought to the field a unique combination of (1) imaging and image analysis, revealing previously unseen processes; (2) new engineering tools, primarily microfabrication and 3D printing, providing unprecedented access to quantitative experiments on marine microbes; and (3) an intimate connection between observations and mathematical models, as necessary to identify general principles of microbial ecosystems. More recently, the group has expanded its interests to apply the same integration of different approaches to the study of ecohydraulics, where the effects of fluid flow and transport on aquatic organisms from invertebrates to fish are studied in order to understand the impact of anthropogenic disturbances on freshwater ecosystems. Roman’s work has frequently appeared in high-profile journals including ScienceNature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has been featured in popular media including the BBC, CNN and The New York Times.


1993-1998 B. Eng., Civil Engineering, summa cum laude. University of Padova, Italy
1998-2002Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering. University of Padova, Italy
2002-2005Postdoctoral Fellow in Applied Mathematics, MIT


2015–to date Professor Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
2005–2015Assistant Professor & Associate Professor (with tenure), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA
Apr-Jun 2014Visiting Professor, ETH Zurich and EAWAG, Switzerland
Nov 2013Visiting Professor, University Technology Sydney, Australia
1999–2001Visiting Ph.D. student, Prof. Jörg Imberger’s group, Centre for Water Research,
University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

Honors and Awards

2020-2027 Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative Investigator Award, Moore Foundation
2017-2027Simons Collaboration on Principles of Microbial Ecosystems, Simons Foundation
2016Golden Owl award for best teacher in the Department, ETH Zurich
2013-2018Marine Microbial Initiative Investigator Award, Moore Foundation
2012Maseeh Award for Teaching, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2011Milton Van Dyke Award from Division of Fluid Dynamics, American Physical Society
2010ASLO Lindeman Award for outstanding paper in aquatic sciences under age 35
2007–2009Doherty Professorship of Ocean Utilization
2007–2012NSF CAREER grant (Biological Oceanography)
1998Paolo Sarpi gold medal for the best School of Engineering student, University of Padova