Case study: Emma Doran

2015 CDT student Emma Doran is working on abdominal imaging using high-field magnetic resonance imaging

Emma Doran is a physicist by training, whose undergraduate career included projects on gravitational waves, experimental optics and quantum theory, before work experience in an NHS medical physics department convinced her that biomedical physics with a clinical connection was what she really wanted to do for her PhD in Nottingham. The training at the DTC appealed as she knew her PhD studies would need more experience of programming than she currently had. The biology and biochemistry elements in the training also seemed a good idea, as these were two subjects she hadn’t covered since early high school. In point of fact, she thinks one of the most useful aspects of the course wasn’t subject specific, but stretched across the various modules: the repeated opportunity to get up in front of people and explain your work, be it a literature review, your results in a module practical or a submission to a mock ethics panel. Practice improves both your confidence and technique. As well as being useful for the conference environment, Emma has brought that experience to bear in the field of public engagement. She is now involved in public science festivals and school visits in Nottingham.


When it was time to choose rotational projects, Emma was in no doubt about which project she ultimately wanted as her PhD – abdominal imaging using ultrahigh field MRI. Consequently, for her other choice she felt free to try something in a completely different field. An industry-linked project analyzing endoscopy videos gave her experience of image analysis and provided a chance to both embed and stretch her newly acquired programming skills.

Emma’s PhD research aims to apply 7T MRI in the abdomen to study areas such as the liver, kidney, gastro-intestinal tract, and gynaecology, in order to develop a unique tool for experimental medicine studies and for investigating abdominal organ disease. The objective is to develop basic MRI sequences for a range of abdominal organs, so as to obtain pilot data on which to further optimize scanner hardware and pulse sequence design. This will involve such issues as 2D and 3D readout, image resolution, imaging time, and sequence parameters. There is also potential for the project to develop quantitative measures at ultra-high field. This would involve investigating measures related to blood flow or using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). Emma is working with the multi-channel transmit/receive system on the 7T, a novel research area, including making preliminary measurements of T1 and T2 in different abdominal organs to further optimize MR sequences. Future patient safety is an important aspect of her research; she is also involved in modelling and simulation to ensure the specific absorption rate (SAR) calculated from B1+ mapping is within regulatory guidelines and safe practice. This work is highly interdisciplinary: Emma collaborates with physicists and engineers in developing the MR, but also regularly meets with the clinicians who are the end users of her research.