Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, was recently elected as one of three directors of biological sciences for the Microscopy Society of America.

“It’s an honor to be elected to this position,” Kelly said. “It’s a flattering and humbling recognition by my colleagues, especially at this early stage of my career.”

Kelly began her three-year commitment to the national society in February. As a director of biological sciences, Kelly works with the society’s executive council. The group is developing an outreach program with the goal of bringing early career scientists into the society.

“We are a very inclusive organization and we’d like to grow the society across multiple disciplines for any and all types of microscopy enthusiasts,” Kelly said. “We’re also working to bring more young scientists into the society. It’s great to see students get the research bug, especially when they’re part of an organization that can encourage their excitement by pairing them to mentors and providing a forum where they can present their own work.”

The society will celebrate its 75th anniversary this November. Kelly will help chair a session on three-dimensional microscopy at the society’s annual meeting. Established in 1942 to support the interests of electron microscopy, the society has expanded its purview to include, “the promotion and advancement of techniques and applications of microscopy and microanalysis in all relevant scientific disciplines,” according to the society’s website. 

Kelly’s own research program aligns with the mission of the society.

A structural biologist, Kelly works to develop and improve imaging techniques to better study molecular mechanisms in life-sustaining processes. She has partnered with virologists and cancer biologists, as well as with members of private industry, to invent and adapt new technology to better image viruses, cancers, and early processes in cell development.

“The society provides the invaluable resource of other scientists,” said Kelly, who is also an assistant professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech’s College of Science. “The shared tool of microscopy brings together researchers from drastically different fields. Our varied views can help focus individual research goals, while still prepping the stage for unique collaborations.”

Following in her mentor’s steps, a graduate student training in Kelly’s laboratory has also earned a leadership position in the Microscopy Society of America.

Cameron Varano, a third-year doctoral student in Virginia Tech’s translational biology, medicine, and health program from Winchester Virginia, was recently named as the secretary of the society’s student council, and will co-chair the society’s inaugural pre-meeting congress for students, postdoctoral associates, and early career professionals.

“Last year, I attended the annual conference, and the opportunity to meet and interact with scientists all interested in microscopy was invaluable,” said Varano, who earned her undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in 2009 and joined Kelly’s laboratory in 2015. “I’m excited to be a part of the student council, particularly given the huge investment the society makes in students and early career scientists.”

Kelly says she is proud of Varano, and she hopes other students will become more active in the society.

“Our hope is that the society will continue to grow, not only in numbers of members but also in numbers of scientific partnerships,” Kelly said. “We don’t need a microscope to see how working together benefits science.”

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