Johnston, Keith P. Ph.D.

M. C. (Bud) and Mary Beth Baird Endowed Chair and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek & American Petrofina Fdn. Centennial Professorship in Chemical Engineering

photo of Keith Johnston
Office: CPE 5.414 Mailing Address:
Phone: (512) 471-4617 The University of Texas at Austin
Fax: (512) 471-7060 McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering
Email: 200 E Dean Keeton St. Stop C0400
Austin, TX 78712-1589

Research Group Website

Research Areas: Advanced Materials, Polymers & Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Energy and Environmental Engineering

Research Presentation for Prospective Graduate Students

Educational Qualifications

Ph.D., University of Illinois (1981)
B.S., University of Michigan (1977)


Materials Chemistry for Advanced Functional Metal and Metal Oxide Nanoparticles

We are developing synthetic concepts to control nucleation, growth and passivation of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles in solution with ligands and polymeric stabilizers to design advanced functional materials.  The goal is to achieve the proper balance of fundamental science to guide combinatorial materials science to achieved desired function for subsurface energy, electrochemical energy storage, drug delivery and bionanotechnology applications.

Nanoclusters Assembled from Nanoparticles

Organic (proteins) and inorganic (metals and metal oxides) nanoparticles may be assembled into nanoclusters with control of particle size and morphology to design a wide range of novel materials with desired properties. The size and morphology are controlled by tuning colloidal interactions and nucleation and growth pathways.  Often the particles are quenched with polymeric stabilizers that may also be used to tailor interfacial properties and other types of functionality.

Nanoparticles at Liquid and Solid Interfaces

The ability to tune the interfacial properties of nanoparticles at either liquid, gas or solid interfaces, in many cases with other amphiphiles including surfactants and polymers, is of broad interest in many fields.  For liquid and gas interfaces, we are investigating emulsions and foams.  Interactions at solid interfaces are of interest to understand nanoparticle transport in porous media, and nanoparticle adsorption and dispersion of nanoparticles on electrocatalyst supports. The adsorption of covalent grafting of polymers to nanoparticle surfaces is of great interest for modifying the interfacial properties, and in some cases rheological behavior.

Nanotechnology in Subsurface Green Energy Production

Even modest changes in greener recovery of oil and gas will have a profound impact on the energy picture and health of the planet, including water utilization.  We are developing a new field of subsurface nanotechnology for CO2 sequestration, improved oil recovery, imaging reservoirs, greener fracturing with low water utilization and treatment of marine oil spills.  This interdisciplinary research is based combining materials chemistry for nanoparticle synthesis, colloid and interface science for various liquid and solid interfaces, polymer science for stabilization and rheological aspects, and nanoparticle transport. We interact closely with several petroleum engineers in these projects.

Materials Chemistry for Energy Storage: Electrocatalysis, Batteries and Supercapacitors

Highly active metal and metal oxide electrocatalysts for batteries and supercapacitors are synthesized by arrested growth precipitation methods to control composition, morphology and crystallinity. These catalysts are highly active for the oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution reactions, crucial reactions for bifunctional air electrodes in rechargeable metal-air batteries and in hydrogen production. We use insights into oxide surfaces and crystal structure to design earth-abundant catalysts that could potentially replace costly precious metals and their alloys.

Protein Stabilization and Drug Delivery with Reversible Nanoclusters

One of the grand challenges in drug delivery is for patients to self-administer biopharmaceuticals, including monoclonal antibodies, at home with subcutaneous injection. We are enabling such treatments by forming low viscosity dispersions of protein nanoclusters formed by colloidal assembly. The nanocluster assembly is reversible back to individual biologically active protein molecules. We are attempting to demonstrate that this concept is universal and may be applied to a wide range of proteins. This project combines molecular thermodynamics of protein interactions, colloid science and rheology with studies of protein stability.

Biomedical Imaging/therapy with Biodegradable Nanoclusters

Metal nanoparticles with surface plasmon resonance (SPR) in the near-infrared region (NIR) are of great interest for imaging and treatment of cancer and other diseases. We are designing Au plasmonic nanoclusters via colloidal self-assembly that biodegrade to individual primary particles small enough for kidney clearance.  The surface plasmon resonance of the Au particles in the NIR region is being investigated in terms of the cluster morphology based on a variety of techniques. Upon biodegradation of polymer stabilizers, the nanoclusters reversible dissociate to primary particles small enough for clearance through the kidneys.

Awards & Honors

Fellow of American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers (2013)
National Academy of Engineering (2011)
Designated as one of the 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era, Centennial of Am. Inst. Chem. Engr. (2008)
Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2004)
Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation Finalist (2001)
University of Texas Engineering Foundation Faculty Excellence Award (1990), (1995)
Allan  P. Colburn Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (1990)
Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher/Scholar (1987)

Selected Publications

  • Hardin, W. G.; Mefford, T.; Johnston, K. P.; Stevenson, K. J. Tuning the Electrocatalytic Activity of Perovskites through Active Site Variation and Support Interactions. Chemistry of Materials 2014, submitted.
  • Chen, Y., Elhag, A.S., Hirasaki, G., Johnston et al., K.P. Switchable Nonionic to Cationic Ethoxylated Amine Surfactants for Co2 Enhanced Oil Recovery in High-Temperature, High-Salinity Carbonated Reservoirs. Soc. Petr. Engr. J. 2014, in press.
  • Worthen, A. J.; Bryant, S. L.; Huh, C.; Johnston, K. P. Carbon Dioxide-in-Water Foams Stabilized with Nanoparticles and Surfactant Acting in Synergy. AiChE Journal 2013, 59, 3490-3501.
  • Worthen, A. J.; Bagaria, H. G.; Chen, Y. S.; Bryant, S. L.; Huh, C.; Johnston, K. P. Nanoparticle-Stabilized Carbon Dioxide-in-Water Foams with Fine Texture. Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 2013, 391, 142-151.
  • Murthy, A. K.; Stover, R. J.; Hardin, W. G.; Schramm, R.; Nie, G. D.; Gourisankar, S.; Truskett, T. M.; Sokolov, K. V.; Johnston, K. P. Charged Gold Nanoparticles with Essentially Zero Serum Protein Adsorption in Undiluted Fetal Bovine Serum. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 7799-7802.
  • Murthy, A. K.; Stover, R. J.; Borwankar, A. U.; Nie, G. D.; Gourisankar, S.; Truskett, T. M.; Sokolov, K. V.; Johnston, K. P. Equilibrium Gold Nanoclusters Quenched with Biodegradable Polymers. ACS Nano 2013, 7, 239-251.
  • Hardin, W. G.; Slanac, D. A.; Wang, X.; Dai, S.; Johnston, K. P.; Stevenson, K. J. Highly Active, Nonprecious Metal Perovskite Electrocatalysts for Bifunctional Metal-Air Battery Electrodes. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2013, 4, 1254-1259.
  • Borwankar, A. U.; Dinin, A. K.; Laber, J. R.; Twu, A.; Wilson, B. K.; Maynard, J. A.; Truskett, T. M.; Johnston, K. P. Tunable Equilibrium Nanocluster Dispersions at High Protein Concentrations. Soft Matter 2013, 9, 1766-1771.
  • Bagaria, H. G.; Xue, Z.; Neilson, B. M.; Worthen, A. J.; Yoon, K. Y.; Nayak, S.; Cheng, V.; Lee, J. H.; Bielawski, C. W.; Johnston, K. P. Iron Oxide Nanoparticles Grafted with Sulfonated Copolymers Are Stable in Concentrated Brine at Elevated Temperatures and Weakly Adsorb on Silica. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2013, 5, 3329-3339.
  • Yoon, K. Y.; Li, Z.; Neilson, B. M.; Lee, W.; Huh, C.; Bryant, S. L.; Bielawski, C. W.; Johnston, K. P. Effect of Adsorbed Amphiphilic Copolymers on the Interfacial Activity of Superparamagnetic Nanoclusters and the Emulsification of Oil in Water. Macromolecules (Washington, DC, U. S.) 2012, 45, 5157-5166.
  • Slanac, D. A.; Hardin, W. G.; Johnston, K. P.; Stevenson, K. J. Atomic Ensemble and Electronic Effects in Ag-Rich AgPd Nanoalloy Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction in Alkaline Media. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 9812-9819.
  • Johnston, K. P.; Maynard, J. A.; Truskett, T. M.; Borwankar, A. U.; Miller, M. A.; Wilson, B. K.; Dinin, A. K.; Khan, T. A.; Kaczorowski, K. J. Concentrated Dispersions of Equilibrium Protein Nanoclusters That Reversibly Dissociate into Active Monomers. Acs Nano 2012, 6, 1357-1369.
  • Yoon, K. Y.; Kotsmar, C.; Ingram, D. R.; Huh, C.; Bryant, S. L.; Milner, T. E.; Johnston, K. P. Stabilization of Superparamagnetic Iron Oxide Nanoclusters in Concentrated Brine with Cross-Linked Polymer Shells. Langmuir 2011, 27, 10962-10969.
  • Ma, L. L.; Tam, J. O.; Willsey, B. W.; Rigdon, D.; Ramesh, R.; Sokolov, K.; Johnston, K. P. Selective Targeting of Antibody Conjugated Multifunctional Nanoclusters (Nanoroses) to Epidermal Growth Factor Receptors in Cancer Cells. Langmuir 2011, 27, 7681-7690.
  • Tam, J. M.; Tam, J. O.; Murthy, A.; Ingram, D. R.; Ma, L. L.; Travis, K.; Johnston, K. P.; Sokolov, K. V. Controlled Assembly of Biodegradable Plasmonic Nanoclusters for near-Infrared Imaging and Therapeutic Applications. ACS Nano 2010, 4, 2178-2184.
  • Johnston, K. P.; da Rocha, S. R. P. Colloids in Supercritical Fluids over the Last 20 Years and Future Directions. Journal of Supercritical Fluids 2009, 47, 523-530.
  • Shah, P. S.; Hanrath, T.; Johnston, K. P.; Korgel, B. A. Nanocrystal and Nanowire Synthesis and Dispersibility in Supercritical Fluids. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 2004, 108, 9574-9587.
  • Johnston, K. P.; Shah, P. S. Making Nanoscale Materials with Supercritical Fluids. Science 2004, 303, 482-483.
  • Holmes, J. D.; Johnston, K. P.; Doty, R. C.; Korgel, B. A. Control of Thickness and Orientation of Solution-Grown Silicon Nanowires. Science 2000, 287, 1471-1473.
  • Johnston, K. P.; Harrison, K. L.; Clarke, M. J.; Howdle, S. M.; Heitz, M. P.; Bright, F. V.; Carlier, C.; Randolph, T. W. Water-in-Carbon Dioxide Microemulsions: A New Environment for Hydrophiles Including Proteins. Science 1996, 271, 624.