Prof. Sylvie Roke

Full Professor

Sylvie Roke graduated from the University of Utrecht in 2000, with diplomas in chemistry and experimental physics. She continued her studies at the Chemical Institute of Leiden University, where she completed her doctoral thesis on nonlinear optics for interfaces in 2004. She took a post-doctoral position at the FOM-Instituut voor Plasmafysica Rijnhuizen of Nieuwegein, followed by the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Heidelberg. Since 2007, she is head of the Max-Planck-Institut group for Metals Research in Stuttgart.


Research Area

Water: No substance on earth is so intimately linked to our well-being. Without it, we die. On a more scientific level, without water, membranes -the structures that provide the architecture of our cells and organelles- cannot function. Charges and charged groups cannot be dissolved, self-assembly cannot occur, and proteins cannot fold. Apart from the intimate link with life, water also shapes the earth and our climate. Our landscape is formed by slow eroding/dissolving processes of rocks in river and sea water; aerosols and rain drops provide a means of transport of water. Our society depends on products that all relate to water and aqueous systems, such as food products, medicine, and consumer goods. In most of the above mentioned systems it is the interfacial region (of the membrane, the droplet, or the particle) that determines much of the physical, chemical, biological, and geological properties. Interfacial water is often considered in one of two ways: As a background, describable by a single parameter, or simply omitted. Alternatively, it is studied in great detail in an environment or condition that is precisely defined but so oversimplified that it has little to do with the real world. Aqueous interfaces are mostly studied in vacuo, or as a planar water/air interface.
However, interfacial water exists on different length scales, from sub-nanometer to micron sized (corrugations, organelles, membranes, liposomes), and is often buried inside another solid or liquid environment that is not at all comparable to vacuum or air. It can also be subject to conditions of flow or electrostatic fields. The absence of molecular knowledge of realistic interfaces is due to a lack of tools that can access buried nano- or microscopic interfaces in liquids and solids.
Research in the Roke lab is aimed to develop non-invasive label-free (nonlinear) optical tools that can probe aqueous systems and interfaces on different length scales, and to use these tools to understand the molecular level properties of water in diverse systems such as in solutions, at buried interfaces, in and outside droplets, curved nanoscale membranes, and in living systems.

Recent Publications


Sylvie ROKE
BM 4112 (Bâtiment BM)
Station 17
CH-1015 Lausanne