Sylvie Roke


Biography and current work


Approximately sixty percent of the mass of the human body is composed of water. Water is not the passive background against which biology unfolds, but an active participator in change. The structural and dynamical properties of water determine the outcome of biological and chemical change. This change occurs at interfaces and in solution. To understand the molecular level details of water-related biological, chemical and physical processes, and to harness them for tomorrow’s technology, we investigate the structure and dynamics of water on various length scales and with varying degrees of complexity.

Our strategy is to develop novel optical technology, geared to obtaining molecular level details of nanoscale and microscopic systems in aqueous environments as well as other complex 3D environments such as pores. We have focused on ultrafast nonlinear optical methods as they are non-invasive and label-free and inherently interface specific or sensitive to polar structures. We apply these tools to fundamental questions that have important implications for biology, chemistry or technology.

Topics of interest:
• Water, aqueous solutions
• Aqueous interfaces and nanoscopic systems
• Nonlinear optics, ultrafast spectroscopy, light scattering
• Multiphoton imaging
• Soft systems: Interfaces, membranes, electric double layers
• Structure and dynamics in living systems
• Neuroimaging and neurological activity


2011 – present: Julia Jacobi Chair in photomedicine, École Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne (EPFL), CH.
2005 – 2012: Max Planck Research Group Leader (W2 /C3) of a centrally announced open theme independent research group. Host: The Max-Planck Institute for Metals Research, Stuttgart, DE.
2005 – 2005: Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, dept. of Applied Physical Chemistry, Heidelberg University, DE.
2004 – 2005: Postdoctoral Fellow, FOM-Institute for Plasma Physics, NL.


PhD , Natural Sciences, Leiden University, 2000-2004 (highest honors)
M.Sc. , Physics, Utrecht University, 1997 - 2000 (highest honors)
M. Sc., Chemistry, Utrecht University, 1995 - 2000 (highest honors)

Awards and Distinctions

2013 - Winner of an ERC Consolidator Grant.
2013 - Cover and Featured Professional in the 2013-2014 SPIE Monthly Planner.
2011 - Julia Jacobi Chair in photomedicine.
2010 - Fellow of the Young Academy of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the German Academy of Natural Scientists, Leopoldina.
2010 - Young member Werner von Siemens Ring (DE).
2010 - Selection for the Excellence Network of the Robert-Bosch Foundation (DE).
2009 - Winner of an ERC Startup Grant.
2008 - Hertha-Sponer-Preis awarded by the German Physical Society (DPG)
2007 - Young Researcher prize, ESF conference on Bio-interfaces, Saint Feliu, ES.
2006 - Minerva Prize awarded biyearly by the Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM).
2006 - Featured Professional in “Brilliant Minds” for Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Tomorrow Today (broadcast on television worldwide 06/2006).
2005 - Recipient of a Max Planck Research Group Leader position.
2005 - Recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship.
2005 - Prize winner in a Dutch science writing contest of the Dutch Physical Society.
2004 - Ph. D. degree with highest honors, awarded to <5% of all candidates.
2003 - L. J. Oosterhoff prize, awarded by the University of Leiden.
2002 - Young Researcher prize of the “Holland Research School for Molecular Chemistry”.
2001 - Young Researcher prize at the Gordon Research Conference on Surface Dynamics, New Hampshire, USA.
2000 - Cum Laude, M. Sc. in chemistry with highest honors, <10% of all candidates.
2000 - Cum Laude, M. Sc. in physics with highest honors, <10% of all candidates.

Sylvie Roke

Julia Jacobi chair in photomedicine
Nationality : Dutch

Fields of Expertise

  • Water
  • Aqueous interfaces and systems
  • Nonlinear optics
  • Ultrafast spectroscopy
  • Light scattering
  • Nonlinear and multiphoton imaging
  • Soft matter and membrane systems