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UW Crest with engineering background
April 6, 2023

Gillian-Daniel wins Materials Research Society Impact Award

Written By: Jason Daley


Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel, director of education and outreach for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s National Science Foundation-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the Wisconsin-Puerto Rico Partnership in Research and Education in Materials (WiPR2EM), is the recipient of the Materials Research Society’s 2023 MRS Impact Award.

Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel
Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel

The honor recognizes individuals who have displayed excellence in areas of science communication, education, advancing diversity, mentoring, or community engagement, which reflect the Materials Research Society’s pursuit to advance materials science and technology to improve the quality of life.
The society cited Gillian-Daniel for “creative leadership in materials education and outreach spanning all ages, in a wide range of venues, and across socioeconomic backgrounds; and for promoting diversity and inclusion.”

“I’m very excited to receive the Impact Award,” says Gillian-Daniel. “I’ve been working with MRS for over a decade; it’s nice to receive recognition for the work that I’ve done with them and the materials community.”

Gillian-Daniel earned her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Though she enjoyed research, she says she never loved getting down into the details as much as her colleagues. She did, however, have a passion for teaching and mentoring. When the position with MRSEC came along, it seemed like a great fit. “I was really excited about the opportunity to do education and outreach as a career,” she says. “It’s been an interesting challenge, trying to figure out how to communicate what MRSEC does, since much of it is extremely technical.”

Gillian-Daniel has been more than up to the challenge. Part of her job is bringing MRSEC science into the community, for instance doing outreach events at a local food pantry. When the pandemic hit, the pantry shifted from in-person to drive-through, no-contact food distribution, so her team developed outreach kits they could give to families picking up food. More recently, she has been working with advocacy groups for the blind and visually impaired to find ways to make outreach more accessible to that population as well.

Those are just a few of many projects Gillian-Daniel works on. “We’ve started thinking about how we can better reach underserved audiences,” she says, “and we’re moving more into the equity and inclusion space around outreach.”

Another big part of her work is professional development for students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty. She leads workshops on topics like bias mitigation, mentor training and science communication. She is perhaps best known for her popular class and workshops called “Improv to Improve Science Communication.”

By combining elements of theater improv with presentation skills, Gillian-Daniel teaches students to loosen up and communicate their research as a story. “Many people talk about science and engineering as if it’s a thing that happens in the absence of humans,” she says. “But there is a human story behind every scientific discovery, every scientific failure. So I talk to my students a lot about creating that story and connecting with the audience as a way to get people to understand their work.”

Reviews for the class, taught both on campus and at workshops presented at conferences and other universities, are very positive, with participants saying it helped them gain confidence, storytelling tools and the ability to think on their feet. “I ask them to do a lot of silly, weird things that I think pushes students out of their comfort zone and helps them become better communicators,” says Gillian-Daniel. “It’s been really fun, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the job.”

UW-Madison MRSEC director, Paul Voyles, Harvey D. Spangler Professor in materials science and engineering, says Gillian-Daniel is a key member of the MRSEC team. “The award is well-deserved recognition of Anne Lynn’s outstanding efforts to share the excitement and importance of materials research with people of all ages and backgrounds and to make our field welcoming to everyone who wants to participate,” he says. “We’re lucky to have her as part of the MRSEC. Congratulations, Anne Lynn!”

Gillian-Daniel will receive the award on April 12, 2023 at the MRS spring meeting in San Francisco, California, where she will present a lighting talk on her work and participate in a panel discussion.