Insects use message-bearing chemical compounds such as pheromones to communicate with each other - and Chris Keeling is building an impressive academic career studying how they work.
The SFU PhD chemistry graduate - and winner of the dean of science's graduate studies convocation medal with a faculty-leading 4.0 grade point average - first became fascinated with the subject while at Dr. E.P. Scarlett high school in his native Calgary.
“I took a science enrichment program at the University of Calgary with Dr. E.A. Dixon and she really got me interested in chemical ecology, the study of how compounds like pheromones work between organisms,” says Keeling.
After earning an honours BSc in chemistry from the University of Calgary, his next move was a no-brainer: “SFU was the big name in chemical ecology, so when I decided to pursue a PhD I headed west.”
Fourteen months into his graduate work, however, he withdrew to pursue a teaching career, only to discover that “research is my main interest.”
So back to graduate school he went, completing his MSc and PhD at SFU, while adding to a list of honours and awards that fills a full page on his curriculum vitae.
Keeling's PhD thesis includes ground-breaking research into the way queen honey bees communicate with their colonies.
Most of the chemicals involved had already been isolated, “but we knew there was something missing,” says Keeling's advisor, professor Keith Slessor. “It was Chris who discovered the four further components of the blend.”
Keeling and wife Patricia are now in Reno, where he is completing a two-year NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nevada, Reno. Following that, he'll be pursuing a faculty position in Canada.
“We love the West Coast,” he says, “and if I had my choice I'd come back to Vancouver.”