Chemist PhD grad dances her way to Stanford

Maureen McKeague, whose interpretive dance video went viral last year, has just danced her way to Stanford University. (Photo provided by Maureen McKeague)

Usually when a video of someone dancing goes viral, it’s cause for embarrassment. It can even be a career killer. For Maureen McKeague though, it just might have paved her path to one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

In 2010, McKeague made a video that uses interpretive dance to explain her complicated research on DNA for a Science Magazine contest. The video won top prize and currently has more than 164,000 views on Vimeo. (

Now the Dancing Chemist, who gets her PhD from Carleton in November, has found herself at Stanford University.

Coincidence? Probably. But her knack for turning academic research into consumable media was surely noted.

“I was told the night before (my post-doctorate interview) the whole lab was sent an email about the dance,” she says. “I’m definitely proud of it right now.”

Now, if only McKeague had a dance to describe her work at Stanford: her team is engineering yeast to eventually make it possible to artificially synthesize drugs similar to morphine and codeine in the lab — they’ve been shown to fight cancer and HIV.

“I’m excited. It’s going well so far,” she says. “But I have to say, when I got here, even I was blown away by the depth and complexity of it.”

When she isn’t head down in the lab, or watching the number of streams on her legendary chemistry dance video tick ever higher, you might find McKeague hobnobbing with some of the world’s best and brightest.

Since moving to Silicon Valley she has met people from Google and Facebook.

Still, McKeague misses Carleton’s “friendly and supportive” chemistry department. “Everyone really wanted each other to succeed,” she says.

At Carleton, the departments are smaller, which makes it a lot easier to collaborate, she says. “I found I learned a lot more outside of my field because of that.”

McKeague also misses her chemistry professor Maria DeRosa, who she calls “one of the most enthusiastic people you’ll ever meet in your entire life.”

But what about frozen eyelashes, winter tires and ice in her socks?

“No,” she says, adamantly. “I won’t miss that.

“I’ve always really loved the sun.”

This entry was written by Daniel Reid and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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