Sorina Popescu stands smiling, surrounded by potted plants.

Sorina Popescu, shown here in a BTI growth chamber in 2008, made many important advances in the areas of plant immunity and signaling networks. Image credit: Boyce Thompson Institute.

We at BTI were saddened to hear that former faculty member Sorina Popescu passed away at the end of last year after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Romania, Sorina received a Master’s degree in biology from the University of Bucharest, a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Rutgers University in 2003, and then was a research associate at Yale University. She joined the BTI faculty in 2008, and transitioned to Mississippi State University in 2015.

Dr. Popescu was interested in isolating, identifying and determining the functions of the various proteins that control plant cell processes. As part of that work, she refined a protein microarray technique, called ATproteinchip, which allowed her to study the functions of thousands of proteins at once. While at BTI, she advised four postdocs and two graduate students, all of whom went on to successful research careers. She also co-led two NSF projects on plant signaling networks and plant disease resistance, while expanding her plant proteomics research focus. She discovered that plant thimet oligopetidases are salicylic acid-binding modulators of plant immune responses, identified new pathways associated with tomato resistance to Pseudomonas syringae, and investigated the role of integrin-like kinases in plant stress.

Sorina’s final resting place is the Holy Trinity Church in Schei, Brasov, Romania. She is survived by her sister, Luminita Popescu; her mother, Elizabeta Cristea; her son and daughter, Nicholas and Medeea Popescu; her husband, George Popescu; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. A pdf of her obituary is hosted by Mississippi State University.

Since her passing, some of Sorina’s former colleagues have shared reflections, which we share with you below. If you would also like to share your reflections on Sorina, please email them to communications@btiscience.org.


Elizabeth K. Brauer, Research Scientist, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

I am deeply saddened to hear of Sorina’s passing. I was Sorina’s first PhD student during her time at the Boyce Thompson Institute. Her generosity and support in exploring a wide range of approaches laid the foundation for my career. I very much appreciate and owe this to her.

Sorina was a fantastic systems biologist who was unceasingly enthusiastic about research. She was someone who could make a mess of dots connected by lines seem not only exciting but worth investing your time and energy into understanding. She was fearless in her goals to uncover the complexity of plant-microbe interactions and was endlessly optimistic about the applications and importance of this area. Her work on protein interactions in signal transduction was particularly impactful and revealed the complexity of interactions within a functionally redundant network of signaling kinases and proteins.

She was also incredibly kind and generous with her students and would spend time whenever needed to discuss anything, research or otherwise. I recall many happy dinners at her house with her family whom she adored, and the way she was careful to make sure everyone was included in conversations and comfortable. She was endlessly supportive and gave us every opportunity to learn and grow. I will miss her.


A group photo of Sorina Popescu's lab and family members outside during the summer.

Sorina Popescu frequently hosted her lab members and their families at her home. Image courtesy of Bhaskar Gupta.

Kamala Gupta, Assistant Professor, West Bengal Education Service

It was in a late spring morning that I first met Sorina at BTI. As I entered her office, the warmth in her smile and embrace washed away all my nervousness and apprehensions in a flicker. It felt as if we knew each other for ages. This was Sorina for me, my interactions with her were beyond academics. Her strength of character, humble nature and helpful attitude taught me to tackle difficult times in life. It feels terrible to believe that we shall not meet again, ever, but the sweetness of the memories shall linger forever. May her soul rest in peace. May the Almighty give strength to George and her lovely family to bear the loss.


Bhaskar Gupta, Associate Professor, West Bengal Education Service

I was accepted as a Visiting Scientist (2013-2014) in Sorina’s lab at BTI after a few email exchanges and Skype video calls. She was not only a hard-working scientist but also a nice human being as well. Her interactions with all Ph.D. and Post-Doc fellows were friendly and stretched beyond academics. My short stay in her lab had family level interactions as well. I write this memoir with a feeling of deep loss and tears in my eyes. Sorina will stay in my memories forever. I am sharing a picture of a summer get-together at her home with other lab mates during our stay. Om Shanti.


Chris Bowen, Senior Scientist, Pfizer

Sorina was an exceptionally kind, patient, and knowledgeable scientist and mentor. I studied in her lab for nearly three years – my first full-time job out of college. Her values and leadership created a rare type of research environment that greatly motivated my own decision to pursue a Ph.D. and research career. For this, I am forever grateful. I will always remember her passion and excitement for discovery and her deep love for her family. Sorina, you are missed.


Two pictures of Sorina Popescu and Setareh Nejat. On the left is a closeup, and on the right is a full-length shot.

Sorina Popescu and Setareh Nejat pose together. Images courtesy of Setareh Nejat.

Mauricio Calvino, Scientist, Allogene Therapeutics

Sorina had a bright spirit and a warmth heart. She was kind and patient. I remember her always with a smile in her face, coming to the lab to chat with us whenever she needed a break from writing grants and papers! What was most important to her was her family and then her work – she loved her research and also sharing her knowledge to whoever was ready to listen and was willing to learn. I am very grateful for the more than three years I got to work and spend time with her! She will be missed…rest in peace Sorina.


Setareh Nejat

Dear Sorina, it is hard to believe that you are not coming back. I never thought this could ever happen. You always had so much energy, so many projects and dreams to realize…

I had the honor to meet you, and your enthusiasm and vision impressed me. We’ve had a long journey together, with so many memories, that is now suddenly over. You have been a great teacher and an exceptional person, being patient with our studies but firm so we would not wander and lose sight of our goals. I can still hear your valuable teaching and your jokes. I can still remember the team dinners and days out, like they were yesterday…. always a great fun!

My first thoughts are of your family. But also, the uncertainty of how life is going to be without you here. You were always everywhere, involved in all activities, supporting us in many ways… with your work, knowledge, experience, ideas, courage, patience, eagerness… Third, an emptiness when I realize you will not be back. You were always there when tricky problems came up, to listen carefully, to think about it, to give good advice, so I never felt alone. Even when we did not see each other for a while, you were always following my developments and looking forward to my progress. I am going to miss you, Sorina. I would have liked you to walk beside me a longer distance… but you are already part of my life. I have learnt so many things from you… I will try to use them in the best way possible.

Thank you, Sorina. Rest in peace.


Six people sit outside at a picnic table.

Dr. Popescu with some of her students having a cookout at her house in July 2019. Image courtesy Emily Cooley.

Oana Peiu, The Research Institute of the University of Bucharest (ICUB)

We are very sad to hear about the passing away of Professor Sorina Popescu, alumni of the University of Bucharest. In 2017, Dr. Popescu was a Visiting Professor at our Earth, Environment and Life Sciences Division of the Research Institute of the University of Bucharest with her work focusing on characterizing cellular pathways, how their components are activated by specific or multiple stressors, and how modifications in signaling elements impact the plant’s response. We were very grateful for her willingness to share with us her knowledge and outstanding expertise, and we plan to foster future collaborations with our colleagues from the Boyce Thompson Institute to continue Dr. Popescu’s work. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Popescu’s family and friends. Our hearts go out to them, in their great loss.


Emily Cooley, HABs Environmental Consultant, Florida Department of Health

I am heartbroken to hear of Dr. Popescu’s passing. I met Dr. Popescu in the Fall of 2016, as an undergraduate student in her Biochemistry course at Mississippi State University. I had just transferred to the university from community college and was having a hard time keeping up and learning the material, so I decided to go speak with her in her office after class one day. I introduced myself and asked if she could offer any guidance. Right away, she was extremely inviting, kind, and compassionate. She suggested that I come work in her lab as an undergraduate student to possibly see and understand processes more clearly. She took me under her wing and let me work in her lab from then until I finished my Bachelors degree in 2018. When my post-graduate plans didn’t work out how I expected, she continued to let me work in her lab throughout that summer, and then offered me a graduate position in her lab as the new school year approached. I had no idea at the time how impactful this was going to be. She graciously mentored me through my all of my masters research and was always full of new and exciting ideas. I could see the passion and dedication she had to our research every day. She was always there encouraging and offering advice to my lab mates & I through every obstacle. I earned my Masters degree under Dr. Popescu in August 2020, and soon after said goodbye to start my first job as a Research Scientist. I will forever be thankful for everything that she taught me over the years. I truly wouldn’t be in this career field if it weren’t for Dr. Popescu opening my mind to the world of plant research.


Five people standing outside a brick building.

Dr. Popescu and students, March 2017 on Mississippi State University’s campus. From left to right: Gizem Dimlioglu, Sorina Popsecu, Emily Cooley, Setareh Nejat and Norbert Bokros. Image courtesy of Emily Cooley.

Mihaela Antofie, Professor, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu

Sorina was a wonderful student and colleague, brilliant and friendly in our biology specialization of the Faculty of Biology, University of Bucharest, Romania – the promotion 1993. She was dedicated to learning and attached to disciplines such as Cell Biology, Biochemistry, and Immunology. She enjoyed a lot student English Classroom and loved pop music. She was full of life and great intelligence. Last summer we decided to start a research project together on plant cell biology and also to create a mycorrhiza collection in SE Transylvania. The same beautiful smile like in her youth was completed now with full of love and content towards her family! Some of our colleagues also remembered Sorina in the same way and are sending deep condolences to the family: Mariana Colcigeanu (Director in the Synevo Company – Bucharest) and Dr. Sanda Maican (Scientist in the Romanian Academy). We will cherish your memory Sorina! Deep condolences to all family and may God give you strength!


Dr. Thualfeqar Almohanna

I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you the profound impact Dr. Sorina Popescu had on my life and the lives of countless others.

Dr. Sorina Popescu was not just a supervisor; she was a mentor, a friend, and a guiding light throughout my doctoral journey. Her passion for knowledge and unwavering dedication to her students was evident from the very beginning. She possessed a rare ability to ignite curiosity and nurture intellectual growth within each of her students, and I am forever grateful to have been under her tutelage.

Beyond her impressive academic achievements, Dr. Popescu had a genuine and compassionate nature that made her students feel seen, heard, and valued. In countless discussions, she imparted knowledge and instilled in us a deep sense of self-belief and confidence. Dr. Popescu had a unique talent for unlocking the potential within each of her students, urging us to push the boundaries of our intellectual capabilities.

One of Dr. Popescu’s most remarkable qualities was her ability to foster a nurturing and inclusive academic environment. She understood the importance of collaboration and encouraged interdisciplinary approaches to research. Her unwavering support and belief in our abilities motivated us to explore and challenge. Through her guidance, she taught us the value of intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and the pursuit of excellence.

Dr. Sorina Popescu’s influence extended far beyond academia. She believed in the power of empathy, kindness, and social responsibility. Her tireless efforts to bridge the gap between research and real-world impact inspired her students to strive for meaningful contributions to society. Dr. Popescu’s commitment to service and unwavering dedication to creating positive change will forever be a beacon of inspiration for all who had the privilege of knowing her.

Let us carry forward Dr. Sorina Popescu’s legacy in our hearts and minds. May we remember her as an exceptional mentor and a compassionate soul who touched the lives of many. Her memory will forever inspire us to pursue knowledge, strive for excellence, and embody the values She passionately championed. Rest in peace, dear Dr. Popescu, knowing that your indelible mark on this world will continue to shine brightly through those whose lives you have profoundly touched.

This post was updated on January 24, 2023, with additional remembrances from Dr. Nejat and Dr. Peiu, and with a link to the pdf of Dr. Popescu’s obituary; and on January 27, 2023, with additional remembrances from Ms. Cooley and Dr. Antofie. Also on July 17, 2023 with remembrances from Dr. Thualfeqar Almohanna