Keating awarded Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Christine D. Keating, professor of chemistry at Penn State, has been selected to receive the 2017 Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Life and Health Sciences. Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of faculty peers reviews nominations and selects candidates.

Keating's research applies the approaches of colloid and interface chemistry — a science that seeks to understand the physical properties of various high surface-area materials such as emulsions and nanoparticles — to problems in biology and materials science. She is particularly interested in how the structural organization of materials dictates their physical and chemical properties. Her lab builds artificial cells to model the internal organization of living cells using such methods as liquid-liquid phase separation and molecular self-assembly. By improving understanding of how and why subcellular compartmentalization occurs, Keating's research could result in new ways to target drugs, construct bioinspired materials, and perhaps even understand how the first cells arose. 

Keating also studies assemblies of nonbiological materials such as metallic nanospheres or nanowires, in which organization arises due to the interactions between particles or between particles and their surroundings. Controlling the arrangement of matter at the microscale and nanoscale can lead to materials with entirely new and tailorable optical, electronic and structural properties. Such materials could find applications in sensors, nanoscale electronics, optical components, and in a variety of other devices.

Nominators describe Keating as “a stellar chemist with unparalleled expertise” who is blazing new trails with “new and exciting dimensions of chemistry,” and whose discoveries increase our understanding of how a cell is organized and how processes critical for life depend on subcellular compartmentalization. “This research on nonliving cell mimics provides new insight into the physical principles that determine the biological functions of living cells, and into one of the most outstanding questions of all science, which is how life began,” said a nominator and colleague.

Keating has published nearly 100 scientific papers and holds six patents related to her research. She was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2014. Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed by peers upon members of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. Keating was the Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen Fellow and Bioengineer in Residence at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in 2010. She received the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation in 2005; a Beckman Young Investigator Award, a Unilever Award for Outstanding Young Investigator in Colloid and Surfactant Science, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellowship in 2004; and she received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation in 2003.

Keating earned her bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, in biology and chemistry at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania, in 1991, having conducted undergraduate research at Syracuse University from 1989 to 1991. She earned her doctoral degree in chemistry at Penn State in 1997 and was a postdoctoral associate in the Penn State Department of Chemistry from 1997 to 1999. She was a research assistant professor in chemistry at Penn State from 1999 to 2001. Keating became an assistant professor of chemistry in 2001 and was promoted to associate professor in 2007 and to professor in 2012.  She is affiliated with the Center for Nanoscale Science, the Materials Research Institute, and the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences at Penn State.

Last Updated May 12, 2017