Genoveva Burca - IMAT Instrument Scientist
24 Jun 2019
- Laura Shafi

I am working on identifying and implementing new applications of neutron imaging by initiating and developing interdisciplinary projects which bring together scientists from different fields.


​​​​​​​​Genoveva Burca in IMAT.


​1.       What is your working habitat?

The IMAT instrument, my office, sometimes ISIS bio or chemical labs and soon the new ISIS research greenhouse. I prepare samples in the labs or help users doing it, run experiments on IMAT beamline and analyse data. I communicate results to the scientific community; collaborate with industry/academia to apply the results of my research and initiate new interdisciplinary projects using different complementary techniques (e.g. neutron imaging and X-ray imaging).

2.       What types of bioscience work have you done?

Life science research on IMAT is expanding, we have unveiled the internal structure of teeth, studied fossils, and explored the dynamics of water in soil-plant systems.

Here there are some of the projects I'm currently working on:

  • Correlative imaging of plant roots using X-rays and neutron imaging (PhD studentship: ISIS-Southampton University-Diamond)
  • Characterization of the internal anatomy of exceptionally preserved fossils through neutron imaging that have proven unsuitable for study with X-ray imaging (collaboration with Oxford University - Imperial College - Manchester University - NHM)
  • Quantification of the dynamics of water sorption and desorption occurring in textile samples  and evaluation of the individual response of each layer to changes in relative humidity (with UCL and Birkbeck University)
  • Quantitative imaging of the 3D distribution of organic carbon in naturally structured soil (with Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala)
  •  Study of the root architecture and water uptake of a wild-type wheat and a water use efficient wheat mutant by using neutron and X-Ray CT imaging (with Sheffield University)


3.       What do you like about working at ISIS?

The opportunity to be creative, have your own research, initiate and being involved in ground-breaking science projects with partners from universities or other research facilities, the prolific collaboration with scientists and engineers across different departments.

4.       What does physics bring to your bioscience work?

These types of samples can often be fragile meaning neutron imaging analysis is ideal as it will not compromise or damage the sample, being entirely non-invasive. Most of the samples from the life sciences field are largely composed of hydrogen, making them especially suitable for neutron analysis. Where X-ray tomography can struggle to provide contrast, neutron imaging is especially good at detecting different isotopes of hydrogen which can be used to highlight different parts of a sample.

5.       What's do you like about working on bioscience experiments?

Applying neutron imaging in life sciences experiments is both challenging and exciting. This kind of experiments have a high level of complexity and novelty and it would be almost impossible to run them successfully without having very good research teams which bring together the best scientists in their fields. The wide range of applications of the experimental results makes our work instrumental in the advancement of different research areas, e.g. agriculture, palaeontology, textile industry, soil science, biomedicine, forensic science.

6.       What inspires you to be a scientist?

The need to bring my own contribution to the progress of science by developing new techniques to investigate in more depth the complexity of matter in order to get a better understanding of the world and universe we live in.

7.       What are you most proud of about yourself or your work?

Doing innovative research on IMAT, the first neutron imaging beamline in the UK for which I have done modelling calculations. The journey from figures to neutron imaging applications in life sciences cutting edge research which I've initiated on IMAT is a real adventure far from its end.

8.       Who is your science role model?

When I was a child, it was Sir Isaac Newton because he seemed to know everything. Now it is Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell who discovered pulsars, inspired me with her passion for science, determination and resilience.

9.       Are there any misconceptions about your job? What stereotypes do you want to address?

I consider that a scientist as an individual with an inquisitive, resourceful and open mind should always try to overcome any sort of misconceptions and stereotypes. However, communication and dialogue must play an important role in this.

10.   Describe your job in 3 words.

Innovative, Interdisciplinary, Research

11.   Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of work?

Hiking, gardening or cooking help me to relax. Sometime I feel the need to go to a concert and Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak and Karl Jenkins are some of my favourites. ​

Contact: Tabbett, Justin (STFC,RAL,ISIS)