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WCU to host Science in the Mountains conference

By Chaz Lilly

Western Carolina University and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center have partnered to bring the Science in the Mountains conference to Cullowhee Saturday, April 13.

“We are excited to host this year’s meeting in our new state-of-the-art Apodaca Science Building,” said Sean O’Connell, WCU associate professor of biology. “Science in the Mountains highlights great science being done in the region and brings together participants from universities, industry, governmental agencies and other places to share ideas and to foster collaborations.”

This year, the conference will showcase science which includes students engaging in course-based undergraduate research experiences. 

“We are fortunate to have sponsorships from organizations such as the Center for Native Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management, Innovation Brewing, multiple offices at WCU and NCBC. These allow us to make the meeting free for attendees and to support awards to recognize outstanding students,” O’Connell added.

The conference will feature two keynote speakers, Meredith Doyle of the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, and Michele Avissar-Whiting from HHMI in Durham. Doyle will speak about cutting-edge approaches to environmental concerns such as reducing plastic wastes and carbon capture technologies. Avissar-Whiting works to make published science results widely available while promoting research integrity. She will speak on aspects of HHMI’s open science initiatives.

meredith doyle

Meredith Doyle

Doyle obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Ohio University and her doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She then joined 3M in 2010 as a senior research chemist in the corporate research materials lab working on touch screen sensor and water filtration technologies. After three years inventing new materials and managing lab projects, Doyle accepted a leadership role within the materials lab.

Doyle eventually moved to a new role, managing a group in the corporate research analytical lab, which included accelerated weathering, polymer, electrical and mechanical analysis. Her teams have deployed new technologies across all 3M business units. In 2021, Doyle moved to NREL, a U.S. Department of Energy research lab in Golden. Her work aims to commercialize technologies in plastics recycling/upcycling and capturing/utilizing CO2 from the atmosphere to displace hard to electrify sectors steeped in the fossil fuel industry.


Michele Avissar-Whiting

Avissar-Whiting obtained her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island. She has a doctorate in medical science from Brown University, where she studied the intersection of toxicology, epigenetics and cancer. Avissar-Whiting also completed post-doctoral research at Brown. Prior to her role at HHMI, she served as editor-in-chief of the Research Square preprint platform from 2020 to 2022 and held various positions at Research Square for nearly 11 years.

Registration for Science in the Mountains is free and lunch and refreshments throughout the day will be provided by sponsors. The meeting will consist of the keynote addresses, short talk sessions and two poster sessions. Those interested in attending may register online, or by contacting O’Connell at Students are particularly welcome to attend.

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