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Anne A. Madden, Ph.D.

Scientist, strategist & science communicator

 

And - Technology co-founder & Chief Scientific Officer, Lachancea LLC

Boldly reach out to people whose work you admire. Boldly dare to think about how your idea can reach and help the multitudes. 

What do you do?

"My mission in life is to show the utility of the microscopic life that lives around us. As I stated in my 2017 TED talk, I believe the future will be filled with microbial solutions to human problems." 

I am a scientist, strategist, and science communicator. I do this in many different jobs. This includes being the Technology Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the food technology company, Lachancea LLC. It also includes being a public speaker and a private science innovation and engagement consultant.

I reveal the utility of microorganisms in various capacities. As a microbiologist, I am often a microbial wrangler. I investigate environments around us - from bug nests to backyard dirt, to our foods to find new microorganisms (bacteria and fungi). New microbial species are remarkable because there’s something that makes them different from every other species we know about. I try and understand how these unique traits can help humans. Some of my research on the microorganisms in paper wasps lead to the discovery of how to make better commercial foods and beverages. 

 

I am also a private consultant. I work with academic and industry groups to help them create innovative science projects that increase their products and/or help them reach new stakeholder groups. 

 

Finally, I am a science communicator. This means I give talks to various groups on the microbial world around us and how the species near us are mysterious creatures that make our lives better. By learning about them we can better understand that our world is full of hope and potential because we don’t have to engineer the next solution, we just have to find the microbe that is capable of solving it for us. I’ve given talks across the globe for corporations, museums, and on the TEDx and TED conference stages.

 

I also work with artists and designers on installations or exhibits that show the utility and beauty of the microbes around us.

Why did you choose this field?

"I also loved the feeling that science made my world bigger."

I realized I wanted to be a scientist when I was young and struggling with incredibly complex - and terrifying realities. My parents were getting divorced, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety and depression disorders and a phobia. I was in high school at the time and I took an anatomy and physiology course. I learned that all of the complex human behaviors we have from eating, to singing, to dancing can be explained by relatively simple logic that bones don’t move and muscles pull them together. I loved how science provided a framework that allowed me to predict occurrences around me. Finally part of my world made sense. By learning about the natural world I saw and experience so much more around me. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"I didn’t have to compromise who I am to be taken seriously as a scientist."

I have discovered novel antibiotics from microbes that lived in soil, I have named a new species of fungus, and I found microorganisms in wasps and bumble bees that help people in the food and beverage industry make better products with better flavors. I have even gotten to share my joys of microorganisms and research with the Wall Street Journal, PBSNewsHour, on a nature documentary, and even at conferences where my co-speakers included Elon Musk, Serena Williams, and the pope. And I did it all in very high heels. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love solving puzzles, and science is full of puzzles. It can be the puzzle of how to find a new microbe that will help us solve a given problem, or it can be the puzzle of how to get a certain audience to be excited about the microbes that are on our shoes. Every day is a new puzzle to solve creatively! 

Best advice for the next generation

Be bold: Boldly reach out to people whose work you admire. Boldly dare to think about how your idea can reach and help the multitudes. 

Be passionate: Don’t be afraid to passionately work hard to learn new things. 

Be kind: Work with kind people who are collaborative rather than competitive. Whenever you get the chance to be successful, make sure to be as inclusive as you can to help others along their journey. 

Fun fact

I just might have the most famous hair in science (outside of Einstein’s). This is mostly due to being selected as the 2015 woman of year for the satirical science society: The Luxurious Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. As a result of this samples of my hair exist in museums on two continents. I think it even says this on my Wikipedia page