Daniel Keeley, ’13, is aiming to solve a mystery. But, instead of investigating a crime, this ardent researcher wants to help uncover nothing less than the unknowns of human life.
“You’re often on a microscope looking at something no one has seen before, maybe no one has described before,” said the Duke University fifth-year PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology. “You can’t read about it. You have to rely on your training and intellectual skills to figure it out… It’s this incredibly intricate and complex puzzle.”
Mr. Keeley, who grew up in Quincy, didn’t always view science this way. When he came to Bridgewater State University as an undergraduate, the biology major thought he would become a teacher. Then, he discovered the nature of lab research from Professors Jeffery Bowen and Merideth Krevosky.
“I had no concept that I’d be doing research,” he recalled. “I thought we knew everything already. I didn’t give much thought to where information in textbooks came from. When I got into the lab, I realized there’s a lot we don’t know.”
At Bridgewater, Mr. Keeley studied the best ways to kill off cancer cells. He also spent several summers interning at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, an experience through which he expanded his understanding of research and met incredible scientists.
Now, as he works toward his doctorate at Duke, Mr. Keeley’s research includes exploring the basement membrane. This is a thin sheet that gives organs their shape and provides a scaffold to which cells adhere.
He is using C. elegans, a tiny transparent worm that has been a major model for fundamental scientific studies since the 1970s. The worms’ short three- to four-day lifespan allows Mr. Keeley to see how their basement membranes, which are similar to those in humans, change during organ growth and aging.
Mr. Keeley hopes to continue researching after earning his doctorate. He would also like to work in science communications, to help share discoveries with a broad audience.
No matter where he ends up, though, Mr. Keeley can thank Bridgewater State for sparking his love of research.
“I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said of the school’s effect of on his life. “I got some really great training at Bridgewater. The biology department was a really great environment. My research experience turned my life goals around. I never would have considered research without the interaction with faculty I had at Bridgewater.”