Travels with my grant

29 April 2017 - By: Jana Goyens

Travels with my grant - Jana Goyens

Jana Goyens
Jana Goyens. Photo: Stef Van Hooydonk


Grant recipient: Janya Goyens  (University of Antwerp, Belguim)

Travelled to: Synchrotron micro-CT imaging of vestibular systems, Trieste, Italy


I used funds from my Company of Biologists travel grant to go to Elettra in Trieste, Italy, in order to make synchrotron microCT scans of the inner ears of lizards. The inner ear plays an important role in maintaining balance, and we investigate whether its anatomy is adapted for enhanced sensitivity in agile lizard species. The organ consists of very thin membranes that are embedded in very dense bone, which makes visualisation very difficult. Indeed, it proved nearly impossible to visualise them with conventional microCT scanning.

As a next step, I went to the Elettra research facilities in order to try it with synchrotron microCT scanning. At Elettra, electrons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light. The high energy beam is subsequently used in several experimental set-ups that are built around the electron storage ring. I used a beamline in which the x-ray beam is used for synchrotron microCT scanning. Because of its higher energy (combined with the parallel geometry and spatial coherence) this often enables more tissue contrast than conventional scanning. Even though I frequently operated a conventional microCT scanner in the past, this was quite an adventure. Not only is the beam energy much higher, but everything is also a lot larger, and many more options are available.

For example, rather than being installed in a closed box as is the case in commercial machines, the entire experimental set-up is built in a 2x2x4 m container which you have to enter when switching samples. Logically, this goes along with impressive safety precautions. The first night shift, without any of the local staff members present, was therefore rather exciting. Luckily, everything worked out fine, and we returned home with beautiful scans in which the membranes of the inner ear are very well visible. Besides the amazing scans that we took home to analyse the ear anatomy in detail, this research stay is also the start of an ongoing collaboration with Dr Lucia Mancini, a senior beamline scientist at Elettra. Together with her and researchers of the Vision lab of the University of Antwerp, we will examine how to improve the quality of the acquired images with correction algorithms and reconstruction techniques. 

See how you can apply for a SEB travel grant here

Category: grants