Colloid and Interface Science / Biomimetic Materials Chemistry

The Keating research group has two major interdisciplinary research themes in the general areas of physical chemistry, colloid and interface science, biological chemistry and materials: 

(1) Cytomimetic chemistry, with an emphasis on experimental model systems for subcellular microcompartmentalization. We study liquid-liquid phase coexistence in aqueous macromolecule solutions, where each phase serves as a distinct microenvironment that can favor reactions such as enzyme cascades, ribozyme reactions, or bioinspired mineralization. 

(2) Self- and directed assembly of particles, with an emphasis on bridging top-down and bottom-up fabrication approaches for multicomponent functional structures. Our target structures at present have optical functions ranging from random lasers to metamaterials and are designed to enable reorganization of particles for switchable optical response.

Click on one of the areas above, or from the menu on the right, to learn more. Our home is in the Chemistry Department at Penn State University, and we are affiliated with the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences, the Materials Research Institute, and the Center for Nanoscale Science (an NSF supported MRSEC). Prof. Keating also serves on the graduate faculty of the Bioengineering Department.

Group News:

September 4 – Keating lab team (Jen, Andrew, Ally & Albanie) competes in the Safety Olympics! 

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August 28 – Dr. Keating attends the International Symposium on Polyelectrolytes in Wageningen, Netherlands, where she presents a talk on coacervates as model systems for membraneless organelles.

August 19-23 – Nathan, Ally & Charlie attended the National Meeting of the ACS in Boston. Ally and Charlie met up with Keating Group Alum Dr. Sarah Boehm, who works with the Professional Development Program at BASF:

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Charlie talk

August 17 – Congratulations to Saehyun Choi on passing her oral comprehensive exam!

August 9-10 – Lab Cleanup Days!

August 2 – End-of-summer REU and RET Symposium. Congratulations to all of the RET/REU summer visitors from this year on their outstanding oral and poster presentations:

Elementary School teacher Stephaine Kuhn with her poster:


Middle School teacher Jennifer Jackson with her poster:


REU student Alain Moffett (SUNY Fredonia) with his poster:


August 1 – Dr. Keating attends the Biomineralization Gordon Research Conference in New London, NH, where she presents a talk on bioinspired mineralization in aqueous multiphase systems.

July 30 – Dr. Keating attends the Systems Chemistry Gordon Research Conference in Sunday River, ME, where she presents a talk on “cytoplasm first” protocells.

July 20 – Congratulations to Jen Miller on passing her oral comprehensive exam!

June 25 – Congratulations to Fatma Pir Cakmak on being selected to present her work at the “Late Breaking Topics” session of the 2018 Biointerface Science Gordon Research Conference in Barga, Italy.

June 20 – Dr. Keating attends the Biointerface Science Gordon Research Conference in Barga, Italy, where she presents a talk on lipid membranes in all-aqueous multiphase systems..

June 10-13 – Eleven members of the Keating group presented their research at the ACS Colloid & Surface Science Symposium, which was held at Penn State. 


June 17 – Congratulations to Fatma Pir Cakmak on being elected as co-chair of the 2020 Gordon Research Seminar on Biointerface Science!

May 13-15 – Dr. Keating attends the Synthetic and Artificial Cells workshop in Alexandria, VA

May 8 – Dr. Keating visits the Yale Chemical Biology Institute and presents a talk about compartmentalization by liquid-liquid phase separation.

April 23-24 – NSF MRSEC Site Visit

April 5 – Congatulations to Fatma Pir Cakmak for the Chemistry Student Leadership Award!


March 1 – Dr. Keating visits the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany and presents a seminar. Lots of great interactions with Institute members who are doing fantastic science!

February 26-27 – Dr. Keating participates in the Artificial Cell residential discussion meeting in Buckinghamshire, UK

January 2018 – Allyson Marianelli attended the ACS Leadership Developmengt Workshop in Dallas, TX. There she met up with Dr. Brad Davis, Keating Group Alum and Chair Elect of the Pittsburgh section of the ACS. Brad and Ally got their photo taken with ACS president Peter Dorhout:

December 15 – Ally & Brian’s new paper on how macromolecular crowding impacts complex coacervation just came out in Soft Matter: Impact of Macromolecular Crowding on RNA/Spermine Complex Coacervation and Oligonucleotide Compartmentalization

November 30 – Keating group members get crafty at a make-your-own snow globe/mason jar event

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November 29 – Chemistry Department Holiday Party. Keating group members competed in the Elf Relay Race and got these cool hats!

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November 20 – Phil Donahue defends his M.S. thesis. Congratulations, Phil!

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November 9 – First year chemistry grad student Albanie Hendrickson-Stives officially joins the lab. Welcome, Albanie!

October 25 – Congratulations to graduate student Saehyun Choi, whose Early Career Collaboration proposal to collaborate with Dr. Laurie Barge at JPL, entitled: “Combining organic-rich coacervates with hydrothermal vent systems as a model for prebiotic compartmentalization” has been selected for support!  

October 13 – Symposium to Honor Prof. Dave Allara on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

October 12 – Congratulations to group member Charlie Crowe for his post on the chemistry blog, Chembites! See his post here

September 18-19 – LAB CLEANUP DAYS!!

September 18 – Congratulations to group members Ally Marianelli, Phil Donahue, and Nicole Famularo, who all received Outreach Leadership Awards for their outstanding contributions to the MRSEC Center for Nanoscale Science

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September 21-22 – Group Alumni Dr. Stacey Dean-Sioss and Dr. James Sioss were in town and met with group members to give insight to industrial career opportunities. Stacey is now at Goodyear and James is a BASF.

September 15 – New paper on Reconfigurable positioning of vertically-oriented nanowires around topographical features in an AC electric field appears as Just Accepted at Langmuir. 

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September 11-13 – Chemistry Department Sponsors Days. Industry representatives visit the department and interview graduate students for careers at their companies. Group Alumnus Dr. Christopher Strulson was in town to recruit for Merck.

August 23-24 – Prof. Keating presents a seminar at the Retreat for the Quantitative Biosciences Munich (QBM), held in Venice, Italy.

August 21 – First day of Fall Semester for Penn State University.

August 20 – Graduate student Nicole Famularo receives “best poster” award for her poster, Reconfigurable Electric Field Directed Particle Assemblyat the Fall ACS meeting in Washington, DC. Congratulations, Nicole!

Nicole ACS 2017

August 20 -25 – Keating group members Phil Donahue, Nicole Famularo and Dr. Nathan Burrows attend the ACS National meeting in Washington DC to present their work in particle assembly. Phil Presented a talk on Tunable random laser emission via reconfigurable particle assembly and Nathan presented a talk on Tuning the dielectrophoretic assembly of dielectric particles through surface functionalization.

They met up with REU student Ismail Ibrahim from NCCU, who worked with Nathan this summer, at the meeting:

Fall ACS

August 15-17 – PI’s meeting for DOE BES program on Biomolecular Materials. Lots of very exciting new bioinspired materials chemistry presented. Prof. Keating had the honor of co-chairing with Prof. Nick Abbott (U Wisc) this year.

August 9-10 – Prof. Keating attends Annual Meeting of the Center for Chemical Evolution. Fantastic work going on in this NSF/NASA-supported Center for Chemical Innovation!

August 4 – Goodbye to our summer people! Group breakfast at the Nittany Lion Inn

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August 3 – Erica Frankel successfully defends her doctoral thesis                        Congratulations, Dr. Frankel!!

Erica defense

August 3 – Congratulations to all of our summer REU and RET participants on their excellent end-of-summer research talks and posters!

High School teacher Brian Hensel with his poster:

Brian at his poster

Elementary/middle school teacher Becky Mapes with her poster:

Becky at her poster

REU student Jake Shaffer (U. Pitt Johnstown) with his poster:

Jake at his poster

REU student Ismail Ibrahim (NCCU) with his poster:

Ismail at his poster

REU student Natalia Alexander (Cal State LA) with her poster:

Natalia at her poster

REU student Madeline Yu (PSU) with her poster:

Madeline at her poster

July 27 – Group picnic at Whipple Dam State Park!

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July 21 – Nicole passes her oral comprehensive exam - Congratulations, Nicole!!

June 12 – Fatma’s  new paper on natural clay microparticles in aqueous two-phase systems is published in Scientific Reports

June 6 – 3rd Annual Millennium Cafe Pitch Competition: grad student Nicole Famularo is awarded 2nd place for her 2-minute introduction to her thesis research: From Invisibility Cloaks to Linear Polarizers: Reconfigurable Nanoparticle Assemblies for Optical Metamaterials. Congratulations, Nicole!

May 30 – Welcome to this summer’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates students Natalia Alexander (Cal State, LA), Ismail Ibrahim (NCCU), and Jake Shaffer (UPJ)!

April 25 – Prof. Keating presents talk at AbSciCon in Mesa, AZ on Microcompartmentalization by aqueous phase separation as a step towards protocols

April 20 – Materials Research Society Meeting (Phoenix, AZ), Grad student Andrew Rowland presents a talk, SM5.4.07: Aqueous Emulsion Droplets Stabilized by Lipid Vesicles as Microcompartments for Biomimetic Mineralization 

April 19-20 – Materials Research Society Meeting (Phoenix, AZ), Symposium SM5: Aqueous Cytomimetic Materials organized by Profs. Anderson Shum (U Hong Kong), Takahiko Ban (Osaka Univ), Christine Keating (PSU), and Shuichi Takayama (U Michigan).

April 5 – Dr. Nuerxida Pulati joins the lab as a postdoc to work on bioinspired materials. Welcome, Nuerxida!

April 4 – Prof. Keating receives 2017 Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal in Life and Health Sciences

April 2-6 – Keating Group at ACS in San Francisco

Charlie Crowe presents poster, COLL 276: Aqueous multiphase emulsion droplets as cellular mimics: Production and utilization 

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Greg Mountain presents his poster, COLL 319: Coexisting coacervate systems to model aqueous phase separated compartments in biology

Ally Marianelli presents her talk, COLL 657: Effects of macromolecular crowding on a coacervation-based model for intracellular organization

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Fatma Pir Cakmak presents her talk, COLL 729: Diffusion of biomolecules in vesicle assembled RNA-based coacervates

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April – Prof. Keating joins the Editorial Advisory Board at the Journal of the Americal Chemical Society

March 23 – New paper with collaborators Begona Monterroso, Silvia Zorilla, Marta Sobrinos-Sanguino & German Rivas in Madrid, Spain: Encapsulation of compartmentalized cytoplasm mimic within lipid membrane by microfluidics has just been published in Chemical Communications.

March 17 – Graduate student Nicole Famularo presents her second year seminar on polarizing metasurface mirrors to the department. Nice job, Nicole!

March 17 – Congratulations to graduate student Jennifer Miller for being awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship!

January 25 – Chris visits Prof. Wilhelm Huck’s lab at Radboud Univ. Lots of really exciting science going on there!

January 9 – Spring Semester classes begin. Chris is teaching a graduate course on Chemical Nanoscience.

December 19 – Sarah’s new MRSEC IRG4 paper with collaborators Lei Kang and Doug Werner (PSU Electrical Engineering Department): Field-Switchable Broadband Polarizer Based on Reconfigurable Nanowire Assemblies has just been published in Advanced Functional Materials.

TOC Figure crop

December 15 – First year Chemistry graduate students Jennifer Miller and Saehyun Choi have officially joined the group – Welcome, Jen & Saehyun!!

October 31 – Sarah Boehm successfully defends her doctoral thesis                        Congratulations, Dr. Boehm!!

October 27 – Chris at Gettysburg College

October 18 – Charlie passes his oral comprehensive exam, congratulations Charlie!

October 11 – New paper with collaborators Begona Monterroso, Silvia Zorilla, Marta Sobrinos-Sanguino & German Rivas in Madrid, Spain: Microenvironments created by liquid-liquid phase transition control the dynamic distribution of bacterial division FtsZ protein has just been published in Scientific Reports.

October 1 – Wedding of former Keating group members Dr. Stacey Dean and Dr. James Sioss – congratulations James and Stacey!!

September 19–23 – Chris at NSF/NASA Ideas Lab on Origins of Life

September 9 – Second Annual Safety Olympics. Chemistry Department wins Departmental Safety Award & Keating group team (Ally, Andrew, Fatma, and Jen) take 3rd place!

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September 7 – Bill, Fatma & Brad’s new paper in LangmuirRNA-based coacervates as a model for membraneless organelles: Formation, properties, and interfacial liposome assembly, has been published as Just Accepted 

August 18-19 – Lab Cleanup!

August 8 – Dr. Nathan Burrows joins the lab as the MRSEC IRG4 postdoc. Welcome, Nathan!

August 4 – Congratulations to NCCU undergraduate researchers Mizrain Ramirez and Kleyser Agueda Lopez on their end-of-summer research talks and posters!

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                                          Kleyser at his poster

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Everyone at Mizrain’s poster. (clockwise from L: Prof. Ray Schaak, Migraine Ramirez, Kleyser Agueda Lopez, XueFei Li (Schaak lab grad student mentor), Nicole Famularo (Keating lab grad student mentor) and Prof. Chris Keating).

August 4 – Congratulations to K-12 teachers Mark Yeckley, Marty Dombrowski, and Kristin Gormley! on their end-of-summer research talks and posters!

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Kristin Gormly with her poster on surfactant chemistry for grade school students, “Good, Clean Science!"

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Marty Dombrowski with her poster on “The Science of Soap” for middle-school.

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Mark Yeckley with his poster on air quality monitoring for a High School Meteorology class & his home-built air particulate monitor

July 1 – Bill’s new review article, Experimental models for dynamic compartmentalization of biomolecules in liquid organelles: Reversible formation and partitioning in aqueous biphasic systems, has been published online at Advances in Colloid and Interface Science

June 27 – Welcome to K-12 teachers Mark Yeckley, Marty Dombrowski, and Kristin Gormley!

May  – Congratulations to graduate student Nicole Famularo for being awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship!

May 29 – Welcome to summer undergraduate researchers Mizrain Ramirez and Keyser Agueda Lopez from North Carolina Central University! 

Feb 16 – Erica’s new paper in Langmuir published as ASAP: Polyamine/nucleotide coacervates provide strong compartmentalization of Mg2+, nucleotides, and RNA  

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Feb 3 – Charlie Crowe presents his second year seminar to the department. Nice job, Charlie!

February – Bill’s paper is on the cover of this month’s Nature Chemistry!

Jan 11 – Spring semester classes begin. Prof. Keating is teaching chem 511, “Chemical Nanoscience” this semester.

Dec 21 – Here is the link to the PSU press release on Bill’s paper

Dec 21 – Bill Aumiller’s paper on Phosphoregulation-mediated RNA/peptide complex coacervation as a model for intracellular liquid organelles finally posts online at Nature Chemistry

Dec 19 – Former group members Drs. Ben Smith, David Cacace, and Dan Dewey were in town! 

Nov 17 – New paper in Biophysical Journal published: Colocalization and Sequential Enzyme Activity in Aqueous Biphasic Systems: Experiments and Modeling 

Nov 16 – First-year student Nicole Famularo officially joins the lab. Welcome, Nicole!

Nov 4 – Greg Mountain presents his second year seminar to the department. Nice job, Greg!

Oct 8 – New paper in Langmuir published as Just Accepted: Aqueous Emulsion Droplets Stabilized by Lipid Vesicles as Microcompartments for Biomimetic Mineralization

Aug 24 – Classes begin for Fall Semester. This semester Prof. Keating is teaching CHEM 448, Surface Chemistry.

Aug 17 – ACS National meeting in Boston; Prof. Keating presents a talk in AGFD session on Complex Coacervation: Principles and Applications entitled, “Biomimetic microcompartmentalization by aqueous phase separation”

Aug 18 – ACS National meeting in Boston; grad student Fatma Pir-Cakmak presents a poster on her clay-stabilized water-in-water Pickering emulsion research 

Aug 19 – ACS National meeting in Boston; Prof. Keating presents a talk in PHYS session on Hydrophobicity, Ion Solvation, and Interfaces entitled, “Reactions in complex biomimetic media"

July 30 – NNIN REU student Nermina Brljak presents her research on nanowire assembly in applied electric fields at the REU/RET symposium

Nermina poster

July 30 – RET program teachers Mark Yeckley, Marty Dombrowski, and Sandy Ranstead present their summer research at the REU/RET symposium

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July 16 – Group picnic at Whipple Dam State Park

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July 8 – Central PA Festival of the Arts begins. 

July 1 – Welcome Nicole Famularo, summer rotation student

June 11 – Bill Aumiller successfully defends his Ph.D. thesis

                   Congratulations, Dr. Aumiller!

Bill defense picture

May 15 – New paper in Langmuir published as Just Accepted: Formation and frequency response of two-dimensional nanowire lattices in an applied electric field

April 29 – Dan Dewey successfully defends his Ph.D. thesis

                   Congratulations, Dr. Dewey!

March 19 – David Kirby successfully defends his Ph.D. thesis

                  Congratulations, Dr. Kirby!

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March 17 – Andrew’s departmental seminar!

March 14 – Keating group Alumni Drs. Stacey Dean, Meghan Andes-Koback, Brad Davis, Ben Smith, and James Sioss (L to R in photo) are in town for a visit

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February 17 – Cliff Brangwynne visits from Princeton Chemical And Biological Engineering department and gives a great seminar on Intracellular Phase Transitions and Cell Size

January 12 – Classes begin for Spring Semester. This semester Prof. Keating is teaching CHEM 597A, Chemical Nanoscience.

November 24 – Chris Keating named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

November 19 – Welcome new first-year graduate students to the lab: Charlie Crowe, Philip Donahue, and Greg Mountain!

October 29 – Ally’s departmental seminar!

September 5 – New paper in ParticleSelf-assembled binary mixtures of partially etched nanowires.

August 25 – First day of classes in Fall semester.  Prof. Keating is teaching CHEM 488, Surface Chemistry, this semester.

August 20 – New paper in J. Phys. Chem. B published as Just Accepted: Interactions of macromolecular crowding agents and cosolutes with small molecule substrates: Effect on horseradish peroxidase activity with two different substrates.

August 20 – New paper in Nature Communications: Bioreactor droplets from liposome-stabilized all-aqueous emulsions

July 31 – REU student end of summer talks and posters - great job, Jiovanna, Kimberly and Robyn!

July 29 – Lab Cleanup Day

July 28 – Brad Davis successfully defends his PhD Thesis

               Congratulations, Dr. Davis!!

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July 3 – Collaborator Sheref Mansy visits from U Trento, Italy, and presents a great talk on"Integrating artificial with natural cells"

June 22 – Chris visits Dr. German Rivas and his research group  in Madrid at the CIB Cellular and Molecular Biology Department and presents a lecture, “Polymer solutions as a model cytoplasm in primitive artificial cells.”

June 14 – Chris travels to Italy to attend Biointerfaces GRC, where she chairs session on Synthetic Cells in which Profs. Luisi and Bayley present excellent lectures

May 27 – REU students arrive!  Welcome to Jiovanna Hermosillo (California State University Channel Island), Robyn Emery (Northwest University), and Kimberly Guzman Betancourt (University of Puerto Rico, Cayey)

May 11 – Drs. Liddell & Cacace return to PSU for the graduation ceremony

May 8 – New paper in Langmuir: Aqueous multi-phase systems within water-in-oil emulsion droplets for the construction of genetically encoded cellular mimics

May 3– New paper in Nano Research: Oxide-on-graphene field effect transistors. 

February 21 – Kristi Liddell successfully defends her Ph.D. Thesis

                    Congratulations, Dr. Liddell!!

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February 11 – New paper on sequential reactions in complex media with collaborators in Armaou and Maranas groups appears as "just accepted" in Journal of Physical Chemistry B!

January 30 – Christopher Strulson successfully defends his Ph.D. Thesis
                    Congratulations, Dr. Strulson!!

January 13 – First day of class, Spring Semester 2014.  Prof. Keating is teaching CHEM 597A, "Chemical Nanoscience" this semester.

               Spri© Chris Keating 2013