H. Douglas Keith

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H. Douglas Keith
H. Douglas Keith, portrait by Marty Seefer
portrait by Marty Seefer
Stelcar Photographs
Born (1927-03-10)10 March 1927
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died 9 February 2003(2003-02-09) (aged 75)
Alma mater Queen's University (Belfast) and the University of Bristol
Known for Keith and Padden theory
Awards Polymer Physics Prize, 1973; Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS); Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); 1986 Fraser Price Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Scientific career
Fields Polymer physics
Institutions American Viscose Corporation; AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories; University of Connecticut

Dr. H. Douglas Keith, FAAAS (born 10 March 1927, Belfast, Northern Ireland – died 9 February 2003) was a physicist and one of the primary polymer researchers over the latter half of the 20th century.[1][2]

Early UK University affiliations[edit]

In 1948, Keith obtained a BSc degree from Queen's University in Belfast. In 1951, he received a PhD in Physics from the University of Bristol in England, where he taught optics as a Lecturer in Physics between 1951 and 1956.[1][2]

Industrial career[edit]

Keith immigrated to the USA in 1956 after accepting a position at the American Viscose Corporation in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, where he began researching the complex structures and morphologies of macromolecules. There, he met his lifelong collaborator, Frank J. Padden Jr. Together, they began to examine the optical properties of spherulites from both theoretical and experimental approaches (see Spherulite).[1] [2]

Keith and Padden joined Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ in 1960. Not long after they arrived, they published a seminal paper on spherulitic crystallisation.[1][2] They subsequently studied the crystalline structures of isotactic polypropylene, isotactic polystyrene, polyesters, various polypeptides (see Peptide), and other crystallisable polymers. In 1965, Keith and his collaborators explained the mechanical strength of polymers by discovering their intercrystalline links.[1] [2]

A team led by Keith led, including Padden, Lotz and Giannoni, produced the first chain-folded single DNA crystals in 1969.[1][2] For this and their later work, the American Physical Society awarded its Polymer Physics Prize to Keith & Padden in 1973.[3]

Later, he was named Head of the Analytical Chemistry Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories. He subsequently became Head of the Organic Materials Research Department.[1]

The Keith and Padden theory[edit]

Forming the basis of what has become known as the Keith and Padden theory, the two researchers published "Twisting orientation and the role of transient states in polymer crystallization"[4] in 1984 and "Banding in Polyethylene and other spherulites"[5] in 1996. These two papers addressed the long-standing problem of accounting for the origins of lamellar twisting in banded polymer spherulites.

The Keith and Padden theory states that the twist of a lamella results from the tendency for scrolling in opposite directions of the two "half-lamellae". According to that theory, the result of the appearance of scrolled instead of twisted lamellae is the atrophy of one of the half-lamellae[6]

Later academic research[edit]

After his retirement from Bell Labs in 1988, Keith continued his polymer morphology research as a faculty member at the University of Connecticut. He became a Professor Emeritus in 1996.[1][2]


Keith was active as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). In 1965–1966, he chaired the Polymer Physics Division, and in 1977–1985 served as the Divisional Councilor at the APS Council. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

In 1986, he was the Fraser Price Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He served on the Editorial Advisory Boards of two research journals, Macromolecules and the Journal of Polymer Science Part B.[1][2]


On 9 February 2003, Keith died from cancer at his home in South Windsor, Connecticut, aged 75.[2]

See also[edit]

Polymer physics


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i closed access publication – behind paywall Lovinger, Andrew J.; Bates, Frank S.; Cheng, Stephen Z.D.; Khoury, Freddy A.; Koberstein, Jeffrey T.; Lotz, Bernard; Russell, Thomas P.; Thomas, Edwin L. (30 August 2002). "H. Douglas Keith – Tribute". Macromolecules. Easton, Pennsylvania: American Chemical Society. 35 (20): 7527–7528. ISSN 0024-9297. OCLC 1268535. doi:10.1021/ma0211737. Retrieved 25 September 2010. ...the 'Keith and Padden theory of spherulitic crystallization' … explained the crystallization and structure of polymeric spherulites based upon competition between their crystalline growth rate and diffusional processes in the melt and has been used very extensively in the study of polymer melt solidification  (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bates, Frank S.; Cheng, Stephen Z.D.; Lovinger, Andrew J. (April 2004). "Obituaries: H. Douglas Keith". Physics Today. College Park, MD: American Institute of Physics. 57 (4): 106. ISSN 1945-0699. OCLC 60622885. doi:10.1063/1.1752439. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "1973 Polymer Physics Prize Recipient". College Park, MD: American Physical Society. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  4. ^ closed access publication – behind paywall Keith, H.D.; Padden Jr., F. J. (January 1984). "Twisting orientation and the role of transient states in polymer crystallization". Polymer. Kidlington, Oxford [etc.] Elsevier Ltd. [etc.] 25 (1): 28–42. ISSN 0032-3861. OCLC 2228301. doi:10.1016/0032-3861(84)90264-7. Retrieved 25 October 2010.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ closed access publication – behind paywall Keith, H.D.; Padden Jr., F.J. (1996). "Banding in Polyethylene and Other Spherulites". Macromolecule. Easton, Pa: American Chemical Society. 29 (24): 7776–7786. ISSN 0024-9297. OCLC 606068122. doi:10.1021/ma960634j. Archived from the original on 18 November 1996. Retrieved 25 October 2010.  (subscription required)
  6. ^ closed access publication – behind paywall Maillard, Damien; Prud'homme, Robert E. (8 February 2008). "Crystallization of Ultrathin Films of Polylactides: From Chain Chirality to Lamella Curvature and Twisting". Macromolecules. Easton, PA: American Chemical Society. 41 (5): 1705–1712. ISSN 0024-9297. OCLC 1268535. doi:10.1021/ma071306u. Retrieved 25 September 2010.  (subscription required)