MTSU chemistry professor serves as ‘catalyst’ to land two federal research grants

Sep 08, 2021 at 05:45 pm by WGNS

Photo: Keying Ding, Middle Tennessee State University associate chemistry professor, left, works with her research assistant and MTSU graduate student Katelynn Farmer on a chemistry research project that recently received a federal grant, in MTSU’s Science Building on Aug. 10, 2021. (MTSU photo by Stephanie Barrette) 

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Keying Ding, associate professor of chemistry, has been involved in research since her time in graduate school at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, in 2004.  

“I have always loved doing research in chemistry,” Ding said. “I was a graduate research assistant in graduate school in Rochester and a post-doc research associate at the University of Minnesota.” 

Upon starting her MTSU faculty position in 2013, Ding immediately began applying for grants to fund her research. She has previously earned two National Science Foundation grants and participated in another.   

This fall, Ding successfully secured two more highly competitive federal grants for her research: one from the NSF and the other from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.  

For both projects, Ding’s chemical research centers around sustainability through developing new earth-abundant metal catalysts — substances that increase the rate of a chemical reaction without undergoing permanent change — to better facilitate “green” or eco-friendly chemistry applications.  

Scroll down to continue reading...


The NSF grant provides $172,182 of funding and extends for three years. The ACS Petroleum Research Fund grant provides $70,000 of funding and also lasts for three years. 

The university’s Chemistry Department highlights the more technical aspects of the research here.  

Grants help chemistry students get into research ‘element’ 

In her past research projects, Ding has advised several undergraduate and graduate students, including Ph.D. students. She plans to do the same with her upcoming work.  

“Students are essential for the success of these projects,” Ding said. “Both projects will offer compelling research experience for students in inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and catalysis.  

“The broader impacts of these research and educational activities will ultimately lead to a more diverse and educated workforce in chemical science.”  

Katelynn Farmer, a graduate chemistry student, is one of the students on Ding’s research team who will be supported by the NSF grant.  

Scroll down to continue reading...


After Farmer read a synopsis of Ding’s research on the Chemistry Department’s faculty page eight months ago, she reached out.  

“Her research in catalysis seemed like the perfect fit for me,” Farmer said. 

They have been working together ever since. 

Compared to Farmer’s undergraduate research experience at another university, she found Ding’s approach refreshing.  

“I was accustomed to a hands-off mentor in my undergraduate research, but Dr. Ding likes to be more involved in the early development of our projects,” Farmer said. “Our time with Dr. Ding begins with a steep learning curve, and I appreciate how much I’ve grown as an independent researcher thanks to her care and confidence in me.”   

Farmer said MTSU has many opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to get involved with professors and their research. She advised most to start looking for opportunities where she did: visiting MTSU faculty webpages and perusing research posters on the walls and windows of the Science Building.  

“Students can (then) usually email or speak to a professor in person about their research,” she said. “Researchers love to talk about their projects … so students generally have an easy time making appointments to discuss research opportunities.” 

Scroll down to continue reading...

Ding advised that faculty starting out with research pursue small projects, recruit student help and practice writing grant proposals.  

She also highlighted the importance of the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, or ORSP, as a resource for both faculty and students interested in research. 

“(The ORSP) provides several grant workshops and faculty collaboration seminars,” Ding said. “I got help from them on start-up funds, awards, grants and my lab equipment purchase. Their support is essential for my success.”  

To learn more about the research support available at MTSU for students and faculty, visit the ORSP website and the Undergraduate Research Center’s Facebook page


Sections: News