Interview with Valentina Caorsi

“Be curious, have fun, bring solutions and revolutionise the ways things are done!”

In our series #WomeninScience, we will hear from the female scientific staff working on nanoSCAN, telling us about their roles in the project, what inspires them about their work and their experiences as a woman in science.

Meet our second guest, Valentina Caorsi, Head of the R&D Department at Abbelight.

Please, tell us more about your background.

Hello, I am Valentina, I have a PhD in Physics and nearly 20 years of research experience in microscopy and biophysics. I have started my research journey at the University of Genoa, with Alberto Diaspro, at LAMBS, the Laboratory for Advanced Microscopy, Bioimaging and Spectroscopy. It was during this period that I discovered microscopy and I got fascinated by the micro-world and how to access quantitative information by cleverly adapting imaging to the need. I then moved to Imperial College London, with a Newton Fellowhip of the Royal Society. Here I learnt how a real biological question triggers new technological development and in particular, how advanced microscopy could help understanding cell mechanical functioning. Six years later, I joined the Institut Curie, in the UMR Physico-Chimie, to develop model systems for the study of cellular contractility, in this case using light not only to image but also to actively manipulate the samples under investigation: I had left the bio-irreproducibility to lose myself in the surgical precision required by the chemistry of reconstituted systems. Of course, there was always my beloved microscope and fluorescent “friends” to tackle the development of a protocell.

Where have you ended up at present?

I joined Abbelight in May 2018 with the aim of contributing to the further development of nanoscopy and other imaging techniques. It is with Abbelight that I discovered the way and beauty of making Research for Research. Since June 2021, I’m heading the Abbelight R&D department, overseeing and managing research developments, fostering a synergic work for Abbelight future imaging advances. I keep strong academic collaborations within the microscopy community has this is key to ensure rapid translation into product excellence. And it is now with Abbelight that I am pushing research to develop solutions that best fit researcher needs, research to develop robust, efficient, user-friendly products.

Throughout my academic career, I maintained a keen focus on designing and developing microscopy and fluorescence techniques aimed at studying cell functioning. The exposure to interdisciplinary environments has positioned me as a scientist at the intersection of physics, biology, and chemistry.

The shift from academia to the industry made me understand a lot about science and myself. I have never doubted that science was my passion, but I discovered that academia was not the only place to be.

How did you find out what your path was after school?

Actually It was only during my PhD that I started grasping the meaning and the beauty of “research”: research that inspires fascination, curiosity, teamwork; research that leads you to share, to travel, to discover the way things are done somewhere else in the world. I discovered microscopy at that time and I still can’t get enough of its beauty: just look at the thing, as Feynman used to say… from a simple widefield, to confocal, multiphoton, a plentitude of fluorescence techniques, up to now in the super-resolution era, pushing the diffraction barrier over and over.

What do you find fascinating about your job?

The people around me have always made the difference. This includes interactions at all levels, from the youngest trainee to the most experienced collaborator, no matter the grade, but rather their willingness to learn, solve problems and have fun: that is what drives my curiosity and feeds my passion. I love studying and learning, and this is luckily a never-ending job

Can you share a specific experience that made you grow?

The shift from academia to the industry made me understand a lot about science and myself. I have never doubted that science was my passion, but I discovered that academia was not the only place to be. Not by chance I came across Nicolas Bourg, who had recently founded Abbelight to push Single Molecule Localisation Microscopy where optics, chemistry, biology and of course computer science merge to exceed the resolution limit. For me, that adventure was and still is a great way to push science forward!

Your advice for women and girls in science:

The same as for men and boys: be curious, have fun, bring solutions and revolutionise the way things are done.

Thank you for the interview, Valentina!

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