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Atlanta, GA - Identity

  • Highland Inn Ballroom 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast Atlanta, GA, 30306 United States (map)

Have you ever felt like you lead a double life, or perhaps like you haven't quite reconciled your past self with your current self? Maybe you intentionally pretend to be someone you aren't, or it could be that you've just taken awhile to embrace your true self. Join us as our storytellers explore these very ideas and the role that science played in their path towards self discovery. Maybe, in listening, you'll even learn a bit about your own true self as well. 

Hosted by Meisa Salaita and Kellie Vinal.

Stories by:


Mauree Culberson loved physics and chemistry when she was younger. While helping her physics teacher hang lights for the theater department a spotlight hit her on a dark stage and she's been performing ever since. Mauree "Mo" Culberson is a writer, storyteller, and performer. She earned her degree in Theatrical Design and Technology and English from the University of Mississippi. Mauree has written for The Atlanta Fringe Festival, the Working Title Playwrights 24 Hour Play Festival and Emory University’s Brave New Works. She has shown her skills as a puppeteer, actor, comic, and improviser in Atlanta. The interaction of art and science continues to be her muse.


Lew Lefton is a faculty member in the Georgia Tech School of Mathematics and the Assistant Dean of Information Technology for the Georgia Tech College of Sciences.  He also has the role of Assistant Vice President for Research Cyberinfrastructure at Georgia Tech. Lefton co-founded and is the acting executive director of Decatur Makers, a family-friendly makerspace in downtown Decatur.  He is on the board of the Southeast Makers Alliance and has been involved as a co-producer of Maker Faire Atlanta since 2014. Lefton has a bachelor of science degree in math and computer science from New Mexico Tech, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Illinois. He moved to Decatur in 1999.  Lefton is also an accomplished and experienced comedian who has done stand up and improv comedy for more than 30 years.


Joe Normandin earned a B.A. in Biology with a Specialization in Neuroscience from Boston University, where he worked as an undergraduate research assistant in labs studying the behavioral genetics of sexual orientation in people and female sexual behavior in a rat model.  He earned a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences - Neurobiology and Behavior from Georgia State University, where he explored how the brain regulates sexual reflexes.  He found evidence of a brain circuit that provides an anatomical/functional basis for the oft-reported side effects of delayed orgasm in those taking antidepressants. He is now a Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. Dr. Normandin values the wonderful public education and support he received as a young gay man growing up in Massachusetts.  Even with that education and support, he struggled with his identity as a gay person.  In high school, a psychology class introduced him to neuroscience, which led to a search for research that he thought would validate his sexual orientation.  This search set him on a path towards becoming a neuroscientist, and ultimately led to questions he explores in the classroom: Are people born gay?  Does it matter?  Dr. Normandin is also an avid gamer and has saved the universe many times.


Trained as a neuroscientist and literary scholar, Laura Otis studies the ways that literature and science intersect. In her research, she compares the ways that scientific and literary writers describe identity, memory, communication, emotion, and thought. Otis received her BS in Biochemistry from Yale University in 1983, her MA in Neuroscience from the University of California at San Francisco in 1988, her PhD in Comparative Literature from Cornell University in 1991, and her MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College in 2017. Since 2004 she has worked as a Professor of English at Emory University, where she teaches interdisciplinary courses on literature, neuroscience, cognitive science, and medicine. Otis is the author of Organic Memory (1994), Membranes (1999), Networking (2001), Müller’s Lab (2007), and Rethinking Thought (2016). She has translated neurobiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s Vacation Stories into English (2001) and has edited Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (2002). Otis’s current research project, Banned Emotions, analyzes the ways that physiology and culture interact to form metaphors for socially discouraged emotions such as self-pity. Besides her academic books, Otis has authored six yet-to-be-published novels. In 2000, she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for creativity.


Omar Villanueva was born and raised in the most southwestern part of Mexico. He and his family came to the U.S. when he was ten years old and has been living in Georgia ever since. He obtained his undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Science Education from the University of Georgia and trained at Emory University to receive his Ph.D. in chemistry. Omar is passionate about mentoring, teaching, and training the next generation scientists in chemistry. He is currently an assistant professor of chemistry at Georgia Gwinnett College, the most ethnically diverse college in the Southeast according to U.S. News & World Report, where he teaches chemistry courses and also conducts research with a team of undergraduates. Although he is now local to Georgia, Omar is very active in a national organization that seeks to advance Latinos and Native Americans in science throughout the country. When he is not in the lab or teaching, Omar enjoys cooking at home.

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