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Aliénor Lahlou on her work on automation and photosynthesis monitoring for DREAM

Clump of micro algae seen through a microscope

With a mission to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through tailored technological solutions, the EU-funded project DREAM employs cutting-edge innovations for precision agriculture in controlled environments such as greenhouses, vertical farms, and indoor gardens. Recently, Aliénor Lahlou, an early career researcher who played a pivotal role in the project, shared insights into her work and its impact on the DREAM initiative.

Aliénor, who recently defended her thesis titled “Dynamic monitoring of photosynthesis in light-acclimated organisms,” discussed her contributions to the DREAM project and the collaborative efforts that have shaped its trajectory. Her thesis, which focused on developing a protocol for studying the fluorescence response of photosynthetic organisms to stress, emerged from a collaboration between project partners ENS Chimie – CPBMV and Sony CSL – Paris, under the supervision of Ludovic Jullien, coordinator of the DREAM project.

One of Aliénor’s roles within the DREAM project involved building an automated microscope to observe microalgae, a crucial step in understanding photosynthesis and plant stress responses. This instrument facilitated experiments and laid the groundwork for future developments, including a portable prototype for use in the field. Reflecting on her contribution, Aliénor emphasized the importance of establishing parameters for future devices and developing machine-learning methods to quantify stress response levels at the single-cell level.

One of the defining features of Aliénor’s work is its commitment to open-source and open-hardware principles. She championed the creation of an open-source, open-hardware version of the automated microscope, ensuring accessibility and transparency in scientific research. “Even before my Ph.D. I would always make my work accessible on GitHub. I’ve only worked with open-source software for many years now,” said Aliénor. “I was a member of my engineering school’s Fab lab. I was in charge of organizing workshops on Arduino and 3D printing.  Before working on the DREAM project, I already had these open-source ideals and tried to follow them.”

Delving into the broader implications of her research within the context of the DREAM project, Aliénor highlighted the project’s role in fostering interdisciplinary collaborations and providing a platform for knowledge exchange among consortium members.

Having the DREAM project environment makes it much easier to explore questions that are too large for the scale of a Ph.D. For example, modeling was a whole area that I was not going to explore because I did not have the time. But now, there is a full work package in the DREAM project about modeling with modeling experts!”

Looking ahead, Aliénor expressed enthusiasm for future collaborations and outlined her plans to continue contributing to the DREAM project. “I’m eager to embark on the next phase of my research journey, which involves exploring opportunities for collaboration and networking across various labs. I aim to be responsible for a project that uses data analysis sustainability in food and farming. I want to keep in mind physics, biology, and chemistry to drive impactful research outcomes,” she confessed.

With a focus on sustainability and a dedication to multidisciplinary inquiry, Aliénor embodies the goals and mission driving the DREAM project forward. As the project evolves, her contributions testify to the power of technology, collaboration, and shared vision in shaping a more sustainable future for agriculture.