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Dr. Valentina Emiliani awarded the CNRS Silver Medal 2021

This year's silver medal is awarded to a researcher from the Institut de la Vision for the originality, quality and importance of her work, which has been recognised both nationally and internationally.

Interview with Dr. Valentina Emiliani

Valentina, who are you and why did you join the Vision Institute?

I am a physicist. After a thesis and several years of research on the optical properties of quantum-effect structures, I decided to redirect my research towards the interface between optics and biology, more precisely between microscopy and neuroscience. A few years ago, I joined the Vision Institute with my team, where I also head the photonics department. The opportunity to join this institute and to benefit from its interdisciplinary environment and dynamism has been crucial for the development of my interdisciplinary research on vision.

Why this scientific work, what are the objectives?

The aim of my research is twofold: on the one hand, with my team, we are interested in developing innovative microscopy methods for imaging and optogenetic* manipulation of neurons and, on the other hand, we use them to study the mechanisms that regulate the functioning of visual circuits.

What does this award mean to you?

I am honoured to have received this award, which is an important recognition of my career and my commitment to devote my research to the interface between optics and neuroscience. It is also an award that recognises the excellence of my research team to whom I dedicate this medal with pride and gratitude.

Optogenetics is a new field of research and application, combining optics and genetics. Optogenetics makes it possible to make neurons sensitive to light by combining genetic engineering and optics. It allows a specific cell type to be stimulated while leaving neighbouring cells intact. This application exploits the light sensitivity of two proteins: Channelrhodopsin and Halorodopsin, which are expressed by certain genes. These genes, when introduced into neuronal cells, can make them also sensitive to light. Here, in treated neurons, light-induced changes in the two opsins allow direct transduction of photons into electrical currents, thereby non-invasively activating or inhibiting neuronal signals. So far, optogenetics has had two main fields of application: 1) the optical manipulation of neural circuits to establish the role of specific cells, both in healthy cells and in cells affected by pathologies; 2) the optogenetic activation in the retina of cells that are not originally photosensitive, such as ganglion cells, in order to restore vision.

The research group of Dr. Valentina Emiliani

The team Wavefront Engineering microscopy is an interdisciplinary group with complementary knowledge comprising nonlinear optics, multiphoton imaging, spatial light modulator technology, neurophysiology, electrophysiology, and in vivo imaging. The group is dedicated to the development and use of advanced optical methods for the investigation of neuronal circuits. In particular the group has pioneered the use of wave-front engineering in neuroscience and demonstrated a number of new techniques based on computer generated holography, generalized phase contrast and temporal focusing enabling efficient photoactivation of caged compounds and optogenetics molecules.

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Institut de la Vision
Dr. Valentina Emiliani
17, rue Moreau
75012 Paris

E-mail: valentina.emiliani[at]