Milan Vala Group

Nano Optics

Institute of Photonics and Electronics, CAS

Milan Vala

Observation of the dynamics of cytoskeletal filaments and their interaction with associated molecular machinery is an important but challenging task. We are developing advanced optical microscopy methods targeting fast and transient biophysical processes including assembly and disassembly of microtubules and the behavior of microtubule-associated motor proteins. We specialize in interferometric optical microscopy to detect weak signals of light scattered from the molecular system of interest. Ultimately, our microscopes are capable to resolve light scattered from a single protein, localize it with nanometer precision and track its position and orientation at up to megahertz framerates. The possibility to probe the proteins with light directly and not through fluorescent or other labels is vital to gaining additional information about the system including the proteins' mass, their tendency to make dimers or oligomers, and even their conformational changes.

Vala Microscope
Figure. Specialized optical microscopes developed in our labs offer a unique combination of single-molecule sensitivity and high spatiotemporal resolution. We observe complex biophysical processes in their natural aqueous environment. Inset illustrates possible label-free identification of conformation changes and binding/unbinding of tubulin oligomers during the microtubule disassembly.

Future projects

We plan to push the limits of optical microscopy even further with the use of advanced polarization-sensitive microscopy based on interferometric detection of scattering and DNA-origami-aided super-resolution microscopy. DNA origami can be engineered to enable high-precision nanoscale positioning and alignment of scattering labels for efficient amplification of the signals encoding the instant position and orientation of the molecules of interest. These techniques are expected to open additional windows to shed light on nanoscopic cytoskeletal processes.    


Institute of Photonics and Electronics

Czech Academy of Sciences

Chaberská 1014/57

182 51 Praha 8

Czech Republic

Milan Vala

Phone: +420 266 773 466



Since 2021

Research scientist, Institute of Photonics and Electronics, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic

2017 – 2021

Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Photonics and Electronics


Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA


Ph.D. in Quantum Optics and Optoelectronics, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

Selected publications

M. Vala, L. Bujak, A.G. Marin, K. Holanová, V. Henrichs, M. Braun, Z. Lánský, M. Piliarik
Nanoscopic Structural Fluctuations of Disassembling Microtubules Revealed by Label-Free Super-Resolution Microscopy
Small Methods 5 (2021) 2000985

H.M.L. Robert, Ł. Bujak, K. Holanová, M. Vala, M. Piliarik
Fast photothermal spatial light modulation for quantitative phase imaging at the nanoscale
Nature Communications 12 (2021) 2921

M. Vala, D. Palounek, H. M. L. Robert, M. Piliarik.
Quantitative Detection of Optical Anisotropy of Single Microtubules by Polarization-Sensitive Interferometric Scattering Microscopy
J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 54 (2021) 204001.

M. Vala, C. T. Ertsgaard, N. J. Wittenberg, S.-H. Oh.
Plasmonic Sensing on Symmetric Nanohole Arrays Supporting High-Q Hybrid Modes and Reflection Geometry
ACS Sensors, 4 (12), (2019) 3265–3274.