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NUANCE: Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center

NUANCE Celebrates International Women's Day with Conference!!

It was so wonderful to meet and connect with so many extraordinary women and electron microscopists from national labs, academia, core facilities, and industry, I had so much fun at this conference!”

Dr. Juleen Dickson, UW Madison

Dr. Ilke Arslan
Dr. Ilke Arslan, Keynote Speaker


Over a hundred attendees from around the world gathered virtually on March 8, 2021 to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Women in Microscopy Conference. The event highlighted the work of female researchers, product specialists, and lab managers from universities, national labs, and microscope vendors. 

The event was kicked off by Professor Deb Kelly, president of the Microscopy Society of America, and Professor Vinayak Dravid, Director of the NUANCE center, who both highlighted the importance of diversity in STEM. The keynote speaker was highly successful microscopist, Dr. Ilke Arslan, Director of the Center for Nanoscale Materials and the Nanoscience and Technology division at Argonne National Laboratory.  She told the story of her career and the corresponding contributions she’s made in many areas of electron microscopy including tomography and in-situ electron microscopy, demonstrating how technique development in electron microscopy can lead to exciting new scientific discoveries. She concluded by talking about the new cutting-edge research using ultrafast electron microscopy that she is currently leading. 

The research presentations featured the work of several successful postdoctoral scholars from all over the country. The diverse talk from various disciplines proved that microscopy is a valuable tool in biology, astronomy, and more. Dr. Kayla Nguyen of UIUC presented about how new direct electron imaging techniques can help us understand magnetic and topological ferroelectric materials, while NUANCE’s very own Dr. Kun He showed how in-situ techniques can be used to study Biomineralization of hydroxyapetite and oxidation of Cu catalysts. These novel presentations have great implications for the future of the field. Dr. Juleen Dickson of UW Madison presented her research on Cryo-electron tomography of platelet microtubules, which requires quick work with cold samples from mice. “It was so wonderful to meet and connect with so many extraordinary women and electron microscopists from national labs, academia, core facilities, and industry,” she said. “I had so much fun at this conference!”

Following the research were three tracks of career panels focusing on vendors and microscope development, facilities management, and research in federal labs and academia. All three echoed the importance of following your interest, regardless of your background, and being persistent.  “It’s a nice blend of science with customer interaction, training, and education,” said Jennifer McConnell, Product Manager for Protochips. She, like others on the vendor panel, did not discover their love for microscopy until grad school. However, all were incredibly passionate in developing cutting edge tools to advance important research around the world.
The facilities managers were equally passionate about their work. Dr. Kathy Walsh of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign enthusiastically summed up her job as “the most fun parts of research because I don’t have to worry about writing grant proposals or dealing with the reviewers.” Daily tasks can include onboarding new users, assisting with the instruments, and troubleshooting when things go wrong. They face challenges such as hardware breaking, data management, and software issues. Luckily, all agreed much of fixing microscopes does involve turning the computer off and on again.

The laboratory researchers spoke on the difference in culture in federal and academic labs. Competitive funding sources, work-life balance, and administrative workloads were all places where federal and academic labs varied slightly. However, both researchers agreed on the importance of networking. Dr. Sheri Singerling of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said, “I was honored to be invited to present my research and participate in a panel discussion and humbled to be in the (albeit virtual) presence of so many brilliant researchers, facility managers, and microscopy-philes.” 

The conference was inspired by the desire to enhance female representation in the field, which historically has been sparse. “I noticed how many large conferences and workshops would only have one or two women presenting. We wanted to create a platform for women in microscopy to share their incredible research,” said co-chair Tirzah Abbott of NUANCE, who also spoke on the facilities management panel. Dr. Arslan also touched on this lack of diversity, mentioning how important a female perspective is for young microscopists because of the specific challenges women face. Work-life balance with kids, pay inequity, and imposter syndrome are some of the many obstacles women in STEM face. But, these are not challenges they face alone. Many of the speakers are mentors to the next generation of female researchers, facility managers, and vendors.
"It was incredibly inspiring to be in the presence of so many awesome scientists who I can identify with on a personal level,” stated co-chair and PhD student Stephanie Ribet of the Dravid Research Group, “In the past year we’ve seen more initiatives to celebrate and promote diversity in STEM. I hope that trend continues.”  

You can see the whole Women in Microscopy Conference on our Youtube page with the links below:  

Welcome & Keynote; Presentations - 1; Presentations - 2 

WiM welcome slide
Opening the first joint Women in Microscopy Conference! 


Deb Kelly
Deb Kelly, PhD, MSA President Elect, gives welcome address


Dr. Kayla Nguyn in the lab
Dr. Kayla Nguyen, presenting her talk


Tirzah Abbott and Stephanie Ribet, co-organizers
Conference Co-Chairs, Tirzah Abbott and Stephanie Ribet