Headshot of Amy Keirstead

Amy E. Keirstead, Ph.D.

Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Associate Professor, Chemistry


Decary Hall 402
Biddeford Campus

Dr. “K” is a physical organic chemist who originally hails from the wilds of Nova Scotia, but has made her home in Maine and at UNE since 2008. A two-time recipient of the Debra J. Summers Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence, she has primary taught in the organic chemistry curriculum and is notorious for being very excited about all things O-Chem even during her 8 am lectures. Dr. K has engaged undergraduate students in her research program that uses organic chemistry to learn about the properties of novel materials for nanotechnology applications, and is passionate about incorporating green chemistry into the undergraduate curriculum and student activities, having spearheaded UNE's adoption of the Green Chemistry Commitment in 2018. She works closely with the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a member of the ACS Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board, served as the Faculty Advisor for the award-winning UNE student chapter of the ACS, and serves as the Student Groups Coordinator for the Maine ACS Local Section (MEACS). 

Dr. Keirstead is also the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In this role, she works to support student academic success, oversees undergraduate research activities in CAS, and liaises with partner offices such as CAS Internships, Academic Advising, Undergraduate Admissions, Student Access Center, and Student Affairs. Please reach out to Dr. Keirstead to learn more about our programs and opportunities for students (including research), to discuss your pathways to success as a student, or with any general questions. 





B.Sc. (Honours)
Bishop's University (Quebec, Canada)
Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada)


Academic advising
Adjustment to college
Chemical education
Degree evaluation
Enrollment management
Green chemistry
K-12 outreach
Organic chemistry
Organic photochemistry

Post-Doctoral Training

Post-Doctoral Training, Research Group of Prof. Devens Gust
Arizona State University (Tempe, Arizona)


Current research

Currently, three projects are under investigation the Keirstead research group at UNE. Each project employs a photochemical probe reaction that was selected to learn more about the physicochemical properties of ionic liquids. Ionic liquids (ILs) are thought to be "green" alternatives to conventional solvents for chemical processes and could be employed in nanotechnology devices.

1) Quantifying the cage effect of ionic liquids using the photo-Fries reaction.

The goal of this project is to learn more about the "cage effect" of ILs, or how ILs "restrict" species within a solvent cage. A large cage effect could reduce the efficiency of a photovoltaic cell that uses an IL as the electrolyte, or could influence the product distribution of a chemical reaction.

2) Examining the photochromism of spiropyrans in ionic liquids using emission spectroscopy.

To explore the feasibility of using ILs as solvents for molecular devices, we are examining the dynamics of spiropyran photochromism in ILs. Spiropyrans are a class of photochromic "on-off" molecular switches that could be used as molecular electronic devices. We have used emission spectroscopy to show that the dynamics of the switch are slowed in ILs compared to molecular solvents, due to the unique properties of ILs. Specifically, our system could be used as a robust two-color (red and blue) emitting molecular switch.

3) Investigating the influence of ionic liquid media on the photoluminescence of siloles (with Jerry Mullin, UNE and Hank Tracy, USM).

Siloles are a class of substituted silacyclopentadienyl molecules that are thought to have applications as sensors and luminescent optoelectronic devices, e.g., OLEDs. Siloles typically have low fluorescence quantum yields when dissolved in organic solvents, but their emission increases when in a viscous or polar medium. In this project, we are investigating how the unique properties of ILs influence the photoluminescence of siloles, and in turn, more about the physicochemical properties of ILs.

Selected publications

Safe and Sustainable Chemistry Activities: Fostering a Culture of Safety in K-12 and Community Outreach Programs. Cannon, A.S., Keirstead, A.E., Hudson, R., Levy, I.J., MacKellar, J., Enright, M., Anderson, K.R., Howson, E.M.  Journal of Chemical Education 2020, ASAP.

Wright, M.V.* and Keirstead, A.EInnovation for a Healthier Student Chapter: Student Activities at the University of New England in Building and Maintaining Award-Winning ACS Student Member Chapters (Chapter 10) Volume 3; Mio, M.J., Benvenuto, M.A., Eds. ACS Symposium Series; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2018; Vol 1229, pp 115-125.  (DOI 10.1021/bk-2018-1278.ch010) (*UNE student)

1,1-Dimethyl-2,3,4,5-tetraphenylsilole as a Molecular Rotor Probe to Investigate the Microviscosity of Imidazolium Ionic Liquids. Scalise, Regina E.*; Caradonna, Peter A.*; Tracy, Henry J.; Mullin, Jerome L.; Keirstead, Amy E. Journal of Inorganic and Organometallic Polymers and Materials 2014, 24 (2), 431-441. (*UNE undergraduate students)

Direct observation of spiropyran phosphorescence in imidazolium ionic liquids. Naughton, Sean P.*; Gaudet, Robyn M.*; Leslie, Anne A.*, Keirstead, Amy E. Chemical Physics Letters 2013, 556, 102-107.  (*UNE undergraduate students)

Photochemical Triode Molecular Signal Transducer.  Keirstead, Amy E.; Bridgewater, James W.; Terazono, Yuichi; Kodis, Gerdenis; Straight, Stephen; Liddell, Paul A.; Moore, Ana L.; Moore, Thomas A.; Gust, Devens.  Journal of the American Chemical Society 2010, 132(18), 6588-6595.

1-(3'-amino)propylsilatrane derivatives as covalent surface linkers to nanoparticulate metal oxide films for use in photoelectrochemical cells.  Brennan, Bradley J.; Keirstead, Amy E.; Liddell, Paul A.; Vail, Sean A.; Moore, Thomas A.; Moore, Ana L.; Gust, Devens.  Nanotechnology 2009, (20), 505203 (10 pp).

Porphyrin-Based Hole Conducting Electropolymer. Liddell, Paul A.; Gervaldo, Miguel; Bridgewater, James W.; Keirstead, Amy E.; Lin, Su; Moore, Thomas A.; Moore, Ana L.; Gust, Devens. Chemistry of Materials 2008, 20 (1), 135-142.

Other scholarly activity

Boucher, M.A. and Keirstead, A. E. Getting Ready for the ACS National Meeting. inChemistry (Volume 27, Winter 2018). Available online: (3/8/18)

Boucher, M.A. and Keirstead, A. E. How to Get an Awesome Recommendation Letter. inChemistry (Volume 27, Winter 2018). Available online: (12/4/17)

Keirstead, A. Maine Local Section Convenes Student Chapter Leaders. Chemical and Engineering News, 95 (47), p 36. (2017)

Funded grants

American Chemical Society Science Coach program; with co-applicant Seth Staples (Messalonskee High School/Sacopee Valley High School). 2013-14 and 2014-15, $500 each cycle.


MRI: Acquisition of a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry Instrument for Research and Teaching. Ursula Roese PI; with co-PIs Amy Deveau, Teresa Dzieweczynski, Amy Keirstead and Stephan Zeeman. National Science Foundation 2012, $137,527.


Using the photo-Fries reaction as a photochemical probe to quantify the cage effects of ionic liquids (PI). Submitted to the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Undergraduate New Investigator Program, 2011, $50,000.


Exploring the Influence of Organized Media on the Photoluminescence Behavior of Siloles (PI, with co-PIs Jerome Mullin and Hank Tracy). Submitted to the Maine Space Grant Consortium Maine Space Grant Education and Seed Research Program (MSG/ESR), May 2010, $25,000.


Research interests

I am interested in how photochemical probe systems can be used to learn about the microscopic properties of novel heterogeneous materials such as ionic liquids and zeolites for applications in nanotechnology (molecular electronics, artificial photosynthesis) as well as green chemistry processes.

Research topics

Chemical Synthesis