January 2010

Keller Garners Avanti Young Investigator Award

“Sarah is fearless in her choice of projects — the tougher the better,” noted Keller’s postdoctoral adviser, Joseph Zasadzinski, a professor in the department of chemical engineering and engineering materials at UCSB. “She instills a magic sense of confidence in her graduate students that it will all work out in the end. She lets them take credit for the successes, and she will take the blame for the failures. And she does it calmly and with grace.”

She presented the first results demonstrating how micron-scale domain formation in membranes varied with cholesterol content and temperature. Later, she showed that lipid domains can be induced from one membrane leaflet to another— a study that counteracted the prevailing hypothesis— and that alterations in the composition of one leaflet could annihilate all domains in the membrane, even when one leaflet would have made domains on its own. Given the fact that the molecular details of how lipids in one leaflet of a membrane could affect lipids in the opposing leaflet were unknown, those exciting findings have opened a brand new area of study.

Many of her colleagues have noted that Keller’s thorough analyses and phase diagrams of lipid domains with respect to the surrounding membrane have become the gold standard in the field of membrane research.

They also point out that Keller’s excellence extends beyond the laboratory. “Her student evaluations are off the charts, and she has won every teaching award on offer at UW,” noted Michael H. Gelb, Harry and Catherine Jaynne Boand endowed professor of chemistry at the University of Washington. “I am confident that, as a result of her inspiring teaching, many of these students will pursue advanced and creative research in the future.”

He added, “I have already told her that I want to sit in on her course and see how she does it.”

Angela Hopp (ahopp@asbmb.org) is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB. Nick Zagorski (nzagorski@asbmb.org) is a science writer at ASBMB.

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