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NUANCE: Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center

3rd Annual Women in Microscopy Conference

Excellent speakers and some very very cool science.”

Another International Women’s Day came and left, but not without the 3rd annual Women in Microscopy conference celebrating the achievements of women in the field. Nealy 600 registrants from 36 different countries signed up to enjoy a selection of research talks, panel discussions, and this year’s keynote speaker Dr. M. Grace Burke. Conference chair and MSA Student Council President, Louisa Mezache, made a point in her opening remarks to highlight the incredible achievements and celebration of the women who came before us, but also spoke on a hopeful future of where International Women’s Day would be unnecessary as gender equality becomes the new status quo. 

Dr. Grace Burke, Corporate Fellow of Oak Ridge National Lab delivered her talk “The impact of microscopy in structural materials research (and my career path!)” where she highlighted the seemingly unrelated connections in her early career that later led to important opportunities and on to to her current path. Her transitions from the United States to England and back again mirrored her journey between academia and industry, where she remains now. Her research has been focused on structural materials, particularly in metallurgy, in demanding environments in order identify changes in the microstructure to better predict performance. Her acknowledgments brought other to tears as she thanked her daughter and late husband for their support of her work, emphasizing specifically the need for men who are invested in the success of the women around them. The keynote presentation was excellent, with a moving personal story that showed the ways that following unexpected paths in life and research led to great things.” 

The research talks included research in quantum materials, phonon dynamic visualization, geology, and biofilm analysis. The first talk by Dr. Salva Salmani Rezaie of Cornell University was “Electron Microscopy for understanding the superconductors’ normal states”. She focused her analysis by defects, mesoscale, and symmetry, which led to interesting relationships between the ferroelectricity and superconductive properties of SrTiO3 in particular. Dr. Rellie M. Goddard of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution followed Dr. Rezaie, taking us from quantum to geological microscopy. Her talk, “There and back again: using microscopy to unlock the secrets of the Earth’s Interior,” featured her research on the structural differences between crystal structures of rocks after simulating the heat from the Earth’s mantle. 

Dr. Yichao Zhang of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign transitioned the conversation from rocks to light with her talk “Visualizing Nanoscale Phonon Dynamics with 4D Ultrafast Electron Microscopy”. The process to determine the correct tool to use involved analyzing the temporal and spatial resolutions of several types of microscopy mapped on a graph to show the needed threshold for the phonons themselves. The hour rounded out with Dr. Aswathy Shailaja of Duke University’s School of Medicine. She focused on biofilms, specifically aspergillus niger biofilms made from a ubiquitous fungi that makes it difficult for antimicrobial agents to penetrate due to their thickness. While the speakers had little time to answer questions, the chat discussion was active regarding their incredible work. Excellent speakers and some very very cool science.” 

The career panel featured Dr. Elaine Humphrey and Dr. Christina Newcomb, both facility managers at the University of Victoria and Standford University respectively, and Dr. Kayleigh Harvey of JEOL USA Inc. Each panelist brought different career perspectives, from facilities management in universities to industry and their journeys in between. Despite their different backgrounds, all agreed on more universal career advice: motivation regardless of role, being a people person willing to help, and lastly, being supportive of others, especially other women in microscopy. They each also told us the benefits of attending and presenting at as many conferences as possible to increase one’s network and visibility. I enjoyed listening and learning from everyone,” commented one attendee. All the panelists mentioned that the people they met in conferences were how they got one of the jobs along their career path, further validating the need for networking and connection with the microscopy community. 

Dr. Louise Hughes, Daniella Duran, and Dr. Emma Bullock joined in for a conversation in their expertise: the connection between their institutions and communities. All the Outreach & Education panelists came with their experience and expertise to make it an engaging, instructive, and practical event. The panel discussed various topics from strategies for engaging the shy students in the back to bringing science to often neglected groups such as handicapped adults. We heard many personal anecdotes and discussed some challenges, especially the struggles inherent in getting fiscal support for new outreach programs. Also discussed was ways individuals could get involved in science outreach locally. The attendees had some great questions concerning the new world of hybrid outreach events and how to engage students virtually. “I loved the Outreach and Education panel,” said one attendee, “Thoughtful conversation with great ideas for other institutions, very encouraging.” 

The Microscopy Society of America’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee hosted the Navigating Discrimination and Bias panel, with members Dr. Rosa Diaz, Dr. Deb Kelly, and Dr. Juleen Dickson weighing in on a variety of topics, such as finding community and the difficulty of describing the amorphous intuition that distinguishes which conversations have underlying tones of bias. Not only did the panel describe their thought process in these scenarios, but discussion continued to include the audience and even Dr. Grace Burke. Dr. Treva Brown, Chair of the MSA DEI committee, also joined the conversation on finding POC mentors in the industry. It created a safe place... Other members were encouraged to join the discussion who were not on the panel,” said one of the attendees. The conversation, despite being a sensitive topic, was joyous and focused on the importance of making connections that resonate with you, even if it starts with Google and a message. 

The feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive again and included many recommendations for several amazing women to be speakers for next year. One emphasized the reach of this event, “Great to see global community coming together.” With the unique challenges female microscopists face around the world, the planning committee is excited to do it again. We’ll see you in 2024! 

Be sure to catch the keynote speaker and research presentations now up on our YouTube Channell!

Tirzah Abbott and Stephanie Ribet
Women in Microscopy co-chairs: Stephanie Ribet (L) and Tirzah Abbott (R)
Vinayak Dravid welcoming guests
NUANCE Director Prof. Vinayak Dravid welcomes attendees to the conference
screenshot of Louisa Mezache
MSA Student Council President Louisa Mezache introduces keynote speaker Dr. M. Grace Burke
screenshot of Dr. Burke

Dr. M. Grace Burke presents her keynote talk 

screenshot of Salva's presentation
Dr. Salva Salmani-Rezaie presents her talk: Electron Microscopy or Understanding Semiconductors' Normal State
Screenshot of Dr Rellie Goddard presenting her talk
Dr. Rellie Goddard presents her talk: There and Back Again: Using Microscopy to Unlock the Secrets of the Earth's Interior 
screenshot of Dr. Aswathy presenting
Dr. Aswathy Shailaja presents her talk: Cell Viability Assessment and Architectural Analysis of Aspergillus Niger Biofilms using Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy and COMSTAT
Dr. Zhang presents her talk screenshot
Dr. Yichao Zhang presents her talk: Visualizing Phonon Dynamics with 4D Ultrafast Electron Microscopy
Screenshot of where participants are from
Screenshot of interactive platform indicating the locations of attendees from around the world!
Ending Slide
That's a wrap! See you in 2024!