Events & Media

June 18, 2015

Major Award — and Powerful New Lab Instruments — for Arturo Keller
Agilent "Thought Leader" Award recognizes Bren professor's scientific record and puts cutting-edge technology into his lab.

Bren school professor Arturo Keller has received a major award from Agilent Technologies, Inc. that both recognizes his significant scientific contributions related to engineered nanomaterials and provides important technical support to further his work.

Arturo Keller with the Agilent Technologies ICP-MS


Keller, who serves as associate director of the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC CEIN), has been named the recipient of a 2015 Agilent Technologies Inc. Thought Leader Award. It recognizes him as a mid-career scientist who is making important contributions, and is related particularly to his research on the use of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in agriculture.

“We are proud to grant the Agilent Thought Leader Award to Dr. Arturo Keller, and we are honored to collaborate with such a world-renowned scientist in the area of nanoparticle research,” said Sue Strong, Agilent Vice President of Marketing and executive sponsor of the award.

Agilent, a major player in the design and manufacture of scientific instrumentaion, identified five candidates globally for the award and then did a "deep dive" into their backgrounds, journal publications, and other elements of professional achievement before choosing Keller for the award.

Strong visited the Bren School today along with Craig Marvin, Agilent Global Marketing Manager for the Chemical Analysis Group; Jack Wenstrand, Director of University Relations & External Research; and Eddie Gallagher, Account Manager for Agilent’s Life Science Group, to present the award, to hear about research being conducted in the Keller lab, and to unveil the instruments, one of which will be installed tomorrow.

"The first thing you need is a great research team, and I have that," Keller (center) said of his lab group, which includes (from left): Bren PhD candidates Yuxiong Huang and Jon Conway, postdoctoral researchers Lijuan Zhao and Adeyemi Adeleye (PhD 2015), and Bren PhD candidate Kendra Garner. They are joined by Dean Steve Gaines.

Because of their unique properties and characteristics, ENPs can be used to deliver nutrients, pesticides, and other materials to plants. But the potential for negative health and environmental impacts is a concern. Like other elements in agricultural soil, such as phosphorous and nitrogen from fertilizers, ENPs end up in freshwater and saltwater systems, carried by agricultural runoff water.

Keller and his laboratory group comprising PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, Bren master’s students, and UCSB undergraduate students, are studying the fate and transport of the particles once they enter water: how they move through the water, how and at what rate they are taken up by plants and where they concentrate (whether in roots, stems, leaves, or edible parts of the plant), how the particles change under various conditions, and their accumulation and biotransformation in organisms that live in water.

The Thought Leader Award includes two important pieces of cutting-edge Agilent equipment for performing liquid chromatography for biomolecules, other organic compounds, and elements. One is a Liquid Chromotography with Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (known as LC/MS). The other is an Indirect Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer ICP/MS). Personnel and service support are provided with the award, and Agilent has extended the promise and the expectation of extensive interaction between the Keller lab and Agilent scientists to explore best uses for the technology. In all, the gift is valued at about $1.45 million and will enable Keller to identify more precisely the presence and behavior of ENPs in his fate-and-transport work.

“The Agilent Thought Leader award provides my research team with leading-edge analytical instrumentation to better understand the potential benefits and implications of nanotechnology in agricultural systems, particularly the interaction between nanoparticles and a wide range of natural or novel organic chemicals,” Keller said. “I expect our research team will be able to make significant contributions to the safe and sustainable introduction of nanotechnology in this vital application.

“It’s a dream come true,” he added. “The first thing you need is a great research team. I have that. Next is great instrumentation, and these two instruments bring me to the leading edge of it. With them, we can explore the nano-bio interface, which is where a lot of the favorable or unfavorable action takes place in terms of nanoparticles.”

The ICP/MS will accelerate Keller’s research by allowing him to identify the signature of single nanoparticles and their breakdown products in plant tissues and other samples. The LC/MS will be used to determine the presence, at very low levels, of organic compounds in water. Such compounds may range from normal pollutants to biomolecules, such as proteins, enzymes, and metabolites, which may be associated with ENPs and may facilitate their transport or may be a result of a plant’s response to the presence of ENPs.

The aim of UC CEIN is to identify characteristics of various ENPs and their potential environmental and health impacts, develop techniques for rapid-throughput testing of new ENPs, and ascertain how the particles can be introduced safely into a variety of applications. Research conducted by UC CEIN scientiest is being used by regulators and others to ensure that ENPs do not become an environmental hazard.

The donation of the instruments for the Keller lab and Keller’s collaboration with Agilent scientists to get the most from the technology is a perfect symbiotic relationship. Keller can perform better, more sophisticated, and more precise science, while Agilent will receive real-world feedback on the instruments, enabling them to identify how best to evolve their technologies.

 “Through our partnership with Dr. Keller, we will be able to support important research that will improve crop yields and quality through the use of nanoparticle delivery systems for essential nutrients, pesticides, and herbicides,” said Strong. “The results of this research will help ensure a clean environment for future generations.”

Agilent adulation: Professor Arturo Keller (second from left) receives the Agilent Thought Leader Award with (from left) Agilent representatives Jack Wenstrand, Craig Marvin, and Susan Strong, with Bren School dean, Steve Gaines.