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Master microscopist: Beckman welcomes Cate Wallace as Microscopy Suite manager

In her new role as Microscopy Suite manager at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Cate Wallace will foster an environment of excellence, teamwork, and inspiration.
Published on Aug. 10, 2021

Cate Wallace Cate Wallace This summer, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology welcomed Cate Wallace into the role of Microscopy Suite manager. While ensuring that the suite’s state-of-the-art technology runs smoothly, Wallace will foster an environment of excellence, teamwork, and inspiration.

“I’m delighted to have Cate step into this role,” said associate director for research Patty Jones. “Cate has the technical experience and the right mindset to lead the Microscopy Suite into the future. She is excellent, interdisciplinary, and collaborative.”

The Microscopy Suite resides within one of Beckman’s core research facilities: the Imaging Technology Group. Housing world-class instruments and countless opportunities for collaboration, one might consider the suite itself to be a core of Beckman, ballasting the institute from its basement site.

Wallace oversees the Microscopy Suite’s robust arsenal of equipment, ensuring that its contents operate efficiently, align with Beckman’s mission, and fuel the scientific curiosities of interdisciplinary researchers across campus.

With a rich career at Beckman spanning 15 years and all corners of the Microscopy Suite, Wallace is excited to rise to this challenge.

“I know what’s here, and I’m familiar with the faculty, advisors, and others who come through,” Wallace said. “We’re a close-knit community. We work really well together and talk a lot, kind of like a family.”

A newspaper clipping with the headline Wallace pitched Bugscope to local and regional media to generate interest in the program and inspire stories like the one pictured above.Wallace’s inaugural role in the Microscopy Suite began during her junior year as a University of Illinois student. When not studying physics, she worked part-time cleaning and coding – the lab and the Bugscope website.

Bugscope is an interactive ITG initiative wherein classes of K-12 students can image bugs, insects, and creepy crawlers via remote microscope control. The program became a passion project for Wallace; she eventually adopted a public relations role, drumming up interest with press releases submitted to local and regional media.

Wallace became a full-time microscopist in 2007; in 2015, she embarked on a University of Illinois graduate program in environmental science. She integrated both pursuits into a multidisciplinary dissertation, which involved imaging pollen samples from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Upon graduation, Wallace was promoted to senior microscopist, the role she occupied prior to becoming manager.

A microscopist through and through, Wallace knows that progress – scientific or otherwise – starts small. Her goals for the position revolve around proactivity and future planning to keep the department’s microscopic and interpersonal machinery well-oiled.

Wallace holds the six-sample holder in her outstretched hand. It is a hexagonal, flat, metal apparatus with six bored holes for storing samples.Wallace is driven to innovate wherever possible. To make the standard single-sample holder more efficient, she commissioned a six-sample holder (pictured), a handy device that allows multiple specimens to be imaged simultaneously..“Something that drives me is the constant search for things to improve upon. Scott [Robinson, former Microscopy Suite Manager] built a legacy for the Microscopy Suite where we all work really well together. I just want to keep that going for as long as I can, and maybe make improvements along the way,” Wallace said.

It’s a uniquely demanding position, but pockets of energy throughout the day make the challenge well worth it.

“People get so excited once they put their samples in [a microscope] for the first time and start using it,” Wallace said. “Their faces light up. They always say, ‘I could spend hours on this.’”

In addition to on-campus researchers, Wallace hopes to facilitate moments of scientific and self-discovery for the investigators of tomorrow. She has a personal mission to inspire young women passionate about careers in STEM.

Cate Wallace looks through the lens of Beckman Institute's scanning transmission electron microscopeWallace operates the scanning transmission electron microscope housed in Beckman's Microscopy Suite.“I want all of the girls out there to see that I am in this position of science and this position of power, and I want them to know that they can do that too. There are far more men than women in this field. I try to make myself a role model for kids in general and talk about science and the things that they can do,” she said.

“I’d love to hear that out there, a little girl would one day want to grow up to be a microscopist because of me.”

When not in the lab, Wallace enjoys reading, adding checkmarks to her travel bucket list, and switching managerial gears to supervise her daughters’ soccer teams.

With Wallace at the helm, there’s no doubt that the Microscopy Suite will continue to be a source of inspiration, equipping the scientists of today and encouraging the microscopists of tomorrow to take up their lenses and start discovering.


Learn more about the Microscopy Suite: https://itg.beckman.illinois.edu/microscopy_suite

The instruments in the Microscopy Suite are available for use by all Illinois researchers and select visiting faculty. To request equipment training or use of the machines, please contact Microscopy Suite Manager Cate Wallace: ctopha2@illinois.edu

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  • Catherine L. Wallace
    Catherine L. Wallace's directory photo.