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Christine Keating

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry


Professional Appointments and Affiliations

Professor of Chemistry


512 Chemistry Building
University Park, PA 16802


B.S. Saint Francis College of Loretto, PA, 1991

Ph.D. Penn State University, 1997

Honors and Awards

Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal in Life and Health Sciences, 2017

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014

Beckman Young Investigator Award, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, 2004- 07

Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, 2005

Unilever Award for Outstanding Young Investigator in Colloid and Surfactant Science, 2004

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, 2004

NSF New Faculty CAREER Award, 2003-08


The Keating lab is interested in construction of functional materials from the bottom up, by control of their nanoscale and mesoscale features. Controlling the composition of matter at these length scales can lead to materials with entirely new and tailorable optical, electronic, and structural properties. Such materials will find applications in medicine, biotechnology, sensors, nanoscale electronics, and in a variety of other fields. Finding inspiration in cell biology and materials science, our research aims to bring new building blocks and new assembly tools to this task.

Soft Materials/Synthetic Biology: Bottom-up assembly of artificial cells and cell-like environments

The living cell can be thought of as a highly functional supramolecular assembly. The intricately complex physical structure and diversity of functions carried out by cells are simply extraordinary. How does the physical and chemical structure of the cell contribute to its properties? Can synthetic cells be assembled to perform functions of our own design? Our efforts are aimed at attainable progress towards the ultimate goal of learning how to use Biology's tricks, with an eye towards understanding life and redirecting these tools to assemble novel functional materials.  Major focus areas include compartmentalization in artificial cells based on phase separation in aqueous polymer solutions and exploring the effect of local concentration and enzyme co-localization on various biologically interesting reactions.

Colloid and surface chemistry/Bioanalysis: Particle functionalization, assembly and application in multiplexed bioanalysis

Key challenges in nanoscience today include the synthesis of functional particles, and the controlled assembly of these particles to construct functional architectures. The Keating group is active in nano/mico particle synthesis, bioconjugation, and assembly to meet these challenges. We synthesize nanospheres, nanowires, and more complex multiparticle assemblies for a variety of optical, electronic, or structural properties.  A fundamental question in this work is, “how can the construction of complex, multifunctional architectures be controlled on the nano- and microscale?” Long-term target structures include electronic and optical devices, with an emphasis on multiplexed bioanalysis. Major current focus areas include self-assembly of composite particles under the influence of gravity and developing new routes to incorporation of new materials and biomolecules onto silicon integrated circuit microchips.

Selected Publications

Controlling disorder by electric field directed reconfiguration of nanowires to tune random lasing. Donahue, P. D.; Zhang, C.; Nye, N. S; Miller, J. R.; Wang, C-Y.; Tang, R.; Christodoulides, D. N.; Keating, C. D.; Liu, Z. ACS Nano 201812, 7343-7351. 

Physical principles and extant Biology reveal roles for RNA-containing membraneless compartments in origins of life chemistry. Poudyal, R.; Pir Cakmak, F.; Keating, C. D.; Bevilacqua, P. C. Biochemistry 201857, 2509-2519.

Impact of macromolecular crowding on RNA/spermine complex coacervation and oligonucleotide compartmentalization. Marianelli, A. M.; Miller, B. M.; Keating, C. D. Soft Matter 201814, 368-378.

Reconfigurable positioning of vertically-oriented nanowires around topographical features in an AC electric field. Boehm, S. J.;Lin, L.; Brljak, N.; Famularo, N. R.; Mayer, T. S.; Keating, C. D. Langmuir 201733, 10898-10906.

Field-switchable broadband polarizer based on reconfigurable nanowire assemblies. Boehm, S. J.;Lang, L.; Werner, D. H.; Keating, C. D. Advanced Functional Materials 2017, 27, 1604703.

Experimental models for dynamic compartmentalization of biomolecules in liquid organelles: Reversible formation and partitioning in aqueous biphasic systems. Aumiller Jr., W. M.; Keating, C. D. Advances in Colloid and Interface Science 2017239, 75-87.

RNA-based coacervates as a model for membraneless organelles: Formation, properties, and interfacial liposome assembly. Aumiller Jr., W. M.; Pir Cakmak, F.; Davis, B. W.; Keating, C. D. Langmuir 201632, 10042-10053.

Polyamine/nucleotide coacervates provide strong compartmentalization of Mg2+, nucleotides, and RNA. Frankel, E. A.; Bevilacqua, P. C.; Keating, C. D. Langmuir 2016, 32, 2041-2049.

Phosphorylation-mediated RNA/peptide complex coacervation: a model for intracellular liquid organelles. Aumiller Jr., W. M. and Keating, C. D. Nature Chemistry 2016, 8, 129-137.

Aqueous emulsion droplets stabilized by lipid vesicles as microcompartments for biomimetic mineralization. Cacace, D. N.; Rowland, A. T.; Stapleton, J. J.; Dewey, D. C. and Keating, C. D. Langmuir 201531, 11329-11338.

Bioreactor droplets from liposome-stabilized all-aqueous emulsions.  Dewey, D. C.; Strulson, C. A.; Cacace, D. N.; Bevilacqua, P. C.; Keating, C. D. Nature Communications 2014, 5, 4670 (doi: 10.1038/ ncomms5670).

Aqueous phase separation as a possible route to compartmentalization of biological molecules.Keating, C. D. Accounts of Chemical Research 201245, 2114-2124.

RNA catalysis through compartmentalization. Strulson, C. A.; Molden, R. C.; Keating, C. D.; Bevilacqua, P. C. Nature Chem20124, 941-946.

Electric-field-assisted deterministic nanowire assembly. Mayer, T. S.; Mayer, J. S.; Keating, C. D. in Encyclopedia of Nanotechnology, Bharat, B. (Ed.) Springer, 2012, 2868p.

Complete budding and asymmetric division of primitive model cells to produce daughter vesicles with different interior and membrane composition. Andes-Koback, M.; Keating, C. D. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011, 133, 9545-9555.