Rebecca Scatena

Rebecca comes from Italy and carried out her studies in chemistry at the University of Padova. During her master’s thesis she worked on the fabrication of new materials while learning how to solve their crystal structures from X-ray diffraction. “I still remember the first structure I solved,” she said. “It made so much sense but at the same time I was astonished by the complexity and power of the technique.” She developed a strong interest in the structural investigation of materials and design of material properties. After five years at the University of Padova, she wanted to do a PhD abroad and an open position in the group of Prof. P. Macchi in Bern caught her attention because it proposed exactly what she wanted to explore—the use of high-resolution X-ray diffraction to probe the electron charge density distribution in materials and the use of DFT simulations for the prediction of properties. After extensive use of X-ray diffraction and DFT simulations, she is interested in learning and merging these methods with neutron diffraction so she can solve the magnetic structure as well as the electronic structure. She is applying with a personal project for the early postdoc mobility fellowship at the Swiss National Foundation to work in the Quantum Materials group at the Department of Physics of Oxford University.  

Interview by Carey Sargent, EPFL, NCCR MARVEL

The biggest challenge that woman scientists face is…

Of course, the fact that the women in science are a minority means that there are obstacles. I guess that the main issue is that academia life and its rhythm are not compatible with family life. To pursue a high-ranking career the first ten years are crucial and a real self-investment to science, however, this is not exactly compatible with the biology of the female body and/or permanent relationships.   

I chose a scientific career because …

I was always attracted by science--already in high school I enjoyed and found scientific subjects easy, but I studied chemistry instead of physics because it seemed to me more easily recyclable into a job in private companies. However, I have wanted to be part of science since I had my first internship in a research group. The research of answers is extremely appealing and entertaining. In addition, by doing science, I have the impression of building something and making a contribution. 

If I were not a scientist, I would be…

I really loved horse riding, I did it for 11 years until I started university. I could be working with horses, but I did remember that when 24 hours per day weren’t enough for both sport and studies. I chose to study..

My most exciting MARVEL discovery to date has been…

The best MARVEL discovery has been that networking of groups and clear goals can produce so much more than the same number of people working individually. 

My top two papers  are...

Difficult to say, there are several papers that are fundamental for my work as they are at the base of methods I use. Besides these, I really refer a lot to the paper of the PhD that was carrying out the project I am working at before me, my predecessor, if you like. This is titled “Experimental and Theoretical Electron Density Analysis of Copper Pyrazine Nitrate Quasi-Low-Dimensional Quantum Magnets” and I find both results and clarity of the presentation remarkable.