Portraits / Key personalities

A tribute to the visionary researcher Valérie Issarny

Changed on 06/04/2023
On 12th November of last year Valérie Issarny, an Inria researcher and pioneer in the fields of software engineering, distributed systems and smart cities, died prematurely from cancer. Inria would like to pay tribute to a woman of conviction who fought to the end for freedom and teamwork in academic research.
Valerie Issarny

Vision and talent for research

Throughout her career, Valérie Issarny studied new types of software architecture, mechanisms and methods enabling ever-changing computer and communications infrastructure to support innovative applications. In the early 2000s, before the advent of smartphones, Valérie Issarny correctly predicted that such applications would be accessible from mobile devices. ARLES, the project team she founded, was among the first to explore the potential of service-oriented architecture for the dynamic composition of distributed applications, using functionalities hosted on mobile devices in close proximity to each other.

In 2010, as their use became widespread, Valérie Issarny turned her attention to the issue of the interoperability of these systems, which have to be able to communicate despite the heterogeneity of their hardware, network and software layers, as well as their mobility. In 2014 she joined MiMove. As Nikolaos Georgantas, the head of the team, recalls: “Valérie was a mentor and a role model for everyone in the Inria research team ARLES and beyond. She remained the cornerstone of the team, including when the team naturally evolved to become MiMove.” 


A flair for international collaboration

Right from the start of her career, Valérie Issarny took part in a whole host of international collaborations, both in academia and in industry, and was appointed to a number of positions of responsibility. In response to the challenge of system interoperability she launched FET Connect, an EU project which sought to explore the software mechanisms that would enable heterogeneous systems in a network to connect to each other. This project, which involved leading researchers from fields ranging from protocol machine learning and formal methods to semantic services, reliability and middleware, led to her awarding of the Étoile de l'Europe by the French Ministry of Research in 2013.


As Paola Inverardi, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Aquila in Italy who worked with Valérie Issarny on this project and two others, as well as in the international associate team ASA, recalls: “Valérie had great management skills. As a scientific coordinator she had a gentle but firm way of directing partners as they sought to meet shared ambitions. The FET Connect project in particular tackled research topics several years before they rose to prominence at an international level.”


Pioneering research

In 2013 Valérie Issarny gets involved in helping the institute to expand its influence. She accepted the role of scientific coordinator for Inria@SiliconValley, an international programme set up to promote collaboration between Inria and universities in California, moving to UC Berkeley as a visiting researcher. Her one-year assignment proved so successful that it was renewed for five consecutive years, benefiting the entire research ecosystem including French tech startups.

Between 2014 and 2018 the tireless researcher also coordinated CityLab@Inria, a Project Lab on smart cities involving seven Inria teams. In the words of Nalini Venkatasubramanian, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of California at Irvine, “Valérie was a visionary - with the omnipresence of mobile IT and the IoT, she was quick to understand the need to engage citizens to provide information for urban applications. Her early research on understanding and mitigating sound pollution via the IoT in Paris was ground-breaking, highlighting the challenges linked to the long-term deployment of scaled-up solutions.”

This research led to the launch of Ambiciti, a start-up that would develop an application of the same name for precise measurement of the level of atmospheric and sound pollution that people are exposed to, street by street.

This societal dimension also led Valérie Issarny to work with researchers in social sciences at UC Berkeley on new forms of democracy and social participation. This resulted in a software platform that was trialled in 2016 by the city of Vallejo in California and the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in France for experiments with participatory budgeting.


A woman of conviction

Held in high esteem by the scientific community, as evidenced by the number of tributes that have been paid to her since her death, Valérie Issarny was an associate editor for some of the most prestigious scientific journals in her field. Made editor-in-chief of ACM Transactions on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems (TAAS) on 1st December 2020, she also chaired or participated in a wide range of programme committees and steering committees for leading international conferences, leaving a mark on her collaborators each time.

Appointed to the board of the ACM Europe Council (the Association for Computing Machinery), she was also a member of the scientific council for ARCEP, in addition to having been appointed to Inria’s Evaluation Committee. A number of her colleagues in the Evaluation Committee have stressed the soundness of her assessments and outbursts, as well as the strength of her convictions.


A truly kind colleague

But Valérie Issarny was not just a peerless scientist - she was also a much-loved colleague and supervisor. Apostolos Zarras, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Ioannina in Greece, was one of the first PhD students she supervised. He describes her as a demanding PhD supervisor, someone who was highly present without being prescriptive. “She was a harsh critic, someone who wanted to see us progress, and she always gave a lot of feedback to guide us, while also giving us a great deal of freedom. She was always available, if only for a quick comment, and very encouraging.”

This very much chimes with the testimonies of her other 21 PhD students and colleagues, all of whom have spoken fondly of the conversations they were been fortunate to have with Valérie Issarny. For many of them, more than a colleague or a friend, Valérie Issarny was part of their adopted research family.  This is a feeling shared by her friend and colleague of 20 years, Nalini Venkatasubramanian: “Meeting Valérie was a gift, a gift I will treasure forever.”


A tribute to the memory of Valérie Issarny would be to maintain her legacy by making a positive impact on the world through technology, Nalini Venkatasubramanian.

The work we did together was always highly visionary, but also deeply-rooted in scientific and technological feasibility, Paola Inverardi.

Valérie may have been outspoken, but she was always spot-on with her criticisms. She was combative and passionate, unwilling to compromise on what she felt to be right,  Nikolaos Georgantas.

Valérie would often say, ‘The best way to get over having a paper rejected is to start writing a new one, Apostolos Zarras. 


Valérie Issarny - key dates 


  • 1991: PhD on dealing with exceptions in parallel programs at the University of Rennes 1, supervised by Jean-Pierre Banâtre.
  • 1992: becomes a research fellow at Inria as part of Solidor, a team specialising in the building of distributed systems and applications.
  • 2002-2013: creates and manages the ARLES project team at Inria Paris Rocquencourt.
  • 2013-2022: director of research with the Inria project team MiMove.
  • 2013-2018: scientific coordinator of the Inria@SiliconValley programme at UC Berkeley.
  • 2014: is awarded the Légion d’Honneur for her contribution to higher education and research.
  • 2021: becomes a director of research “of exceptional class”