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Victoria García Sakai

QENS Instrument Scientist at the ISIS Pulsed Neutron and Muon Source, UK

Victoria García Sakai Victoria García Sakai Victoria García Sakai

Can you tell us about your studies and your scientific field?

I am a chemical engineer by background with a PhD in polymer thermodynamics, who then moved to the world of neutrons to probe polymer dynamics. Since then, my research focuses on using neutrons to answer a diversity of questions in Soft Matter and Bio-relevant problems.

What´s your Neutron-scattering background?

I started as a neutron user during my postdoc using neutron spectroscopy, in particular quasi-elastic neutron scattering, to understand the effect of the dynamics of polymers in a blend. During this time I was also exposed to diffraction, SANS and reflectivity techniques but did not use them that much. All my experiments were performed at the NIST reactor in Gaithersburg, MD, USA. I then joined the reactor as an Instrument Scientist on the backscattering spectrometer HFBS. This time was the highlight of my career, great instruments, great people, great working culture and great science. I can say that 90% of what I know about neutron scattering was taught to me by colleagues at the NIST Center for Neutron Scattering (Thanks guys! Missing you all x).

I moved on from there to understand how neutron scattering worked in Europe and in a spallation source, at ISIS in the UK. They are very complementary! At ISIS I continued working mainly on the neutron backscattering spectrometers but I also have used other instruments. The latest is work on the Vesuvio spectrometer, in irradiation mode, to look at the effects of very energetic neutrons on polymers for solar cell applications.

Now I am also in charge of the prestigious Oxford School of Neutron Scattering where I teach alongside many experts, the basics of neutron scattering theory and techniques, to the new generation of neutron scatterers.

Can you describe step by step how you got to your position?

1994-1998: MEng in Chemical Engineering @ Imperial College, London

1998-2002: PhD in Polymer Solution Thermodynamics @ Imperial College, London, supervised by Prof. M Trusler and Dame J. Higgins – funnily enough Julia is one the pioneers of neutron scattering studies in polymers but I did no neutron scattering during my entire time with her!

2002-2005: Postdoc @ Chemical Engineering in Penn State University, USA – this was the beginning of my neutron career. All neutron experiments were performed at the NCNR.

2005-2007: Instrument Scientist on HFBS @ NIST Center for Neutron Scattering (NCNR), Gaithersburg, USA – it felt like I had been there pretty much since 2002!

2007-present: Instrument Scientist on IRIS and OSIRIS (and sometimes LET) @ ISIS Pulsed Neutron and Muon Source, Didcot, UK.

Would you like to list some of your publications for us?

Nearly 100 (phew!), as a result of great collaborations over my scientific career. The ones I’m most proud of are:

A book:
V García Sakai, C. Alba-Simionesco, S.-H. Chen [Eds.], Dynamics of Soft Matter, Springer, New York, 2012 –book I edited (hard work but well worth it)

A review:
V García Sakai and A. Arbe, Quasielastic neutron scattering in soft matter, Current Opinion in Colloid & Interface Science 14 (2009) 381-390 – review of my field of expertise.

And multiple publications from my first and recently graduated PhD student, Dr. Guiseppe Paterno:

G M Paterno, V Robbiano, KJ Fraser, C Frost, V García Sakai, F Cacialli, Neutron Radiation Tolerance of Two Benchmark Thiophene-Based Conjugated Polymers: the Importance of Crystallinity for Organic Avionics, Scientific Reports 7, 41013 (2017)

G M Paterno, MWA Skoda, R Dalgliesh, F Cacialli, V García Sakai, Tuning fullerene intercalation in a poly (thiophene) derivative by controlling the polymer degree of self-organisation, Scientific Reports 6, 34609 (2016)

G M Paterno, JR Stewart, A Wildes, F Cacialli, V García Sakai, Neutron polarisation analysis of Polymer: Fullerene blends for organic photovoltaics, Polymer 105, 407-413 (2016)

G M Paterno, F Cacialli, V García Sakai, Structural and Dynamical Characterization of P3HT/PCBM Blends, Chemical Physics 427, 142-146 (2013)

What percentage of your time do you dedicate to your family/ work/ for you?

Up to this time last year: 25/65/05
Now (with 10 month old baby): 40/60/0

Who or what is your mentor or greatest inspiration?

I find that this is always a hard question since I don’t really have a particular person. For sure, my dad has always inspired me to try my best and work hard, and alongside him, his brother, my older uncle, inspired me to be a good person, that’s the most important thing.

But career-wise, all I can say is that I have been lucky to work with a number of people that have inspired (and do inspire) me and from whom I know I can learn new things – in fact I’m probably not going to do well working with people that do not!
In particular I remember three important lessons:

Dan A. Neumann – made me make a tough call with the velocity selector on HFBS and Terry, but it made me make a decision and take responsibility for it.
Ian S. Anderson – Take care of the golf balls first; the rest is just sand.
Robert McGreevy – Keep knocking on the door, one day they will open it.

What is the most challenging thing you have faced in your career?

I am facing it right now – trying to accomplish as much post-baby as pre-baby. In particular, being scared stiff of a Plenary talk I have to deliver in July 2017.

Contact Details

R3, 2.05, ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Harwell Science and Innovation Campus
Oxon OX11 0QX

Tel: +44 (0)1235 446703
Fax: +44 (0)1235 445720

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