Karen J. Brewer (1961-2014): A Bright Star that Burned Out Far Too Soon
Seth C. Rasmussen
North Dakota State University, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Fargo, ND, 58108-6050, USA
Over the span of her career, first at Washington State University (WSU) and later at Virginia Tech, Karen J. Brewer ( Figure 1.1 ) earned international acclaim as a prolific and pioneering researcher in the photochemistry and photophysics of multimetallic complexes [1, 2]. Ranging from synthesis of new multimetallic complexes to the study of their ground- and excited-state properties, her contributions aimed to elucidate the effect of the specific assembly of such complexes on their respective spectroscopic and electrochemical properties. In the process, Karen studied the application of complexes to molecular photovoltaics, solar H2 production, artificial photosynthesis, electrocatalysis, Pt-based DNA binders, and photodynamic therapy [1-6]. Publishing her first paper in 1985, she accumulated over 125 peer-reviewed research publications in her career, which have in turn garnered over 3000 citations to date [1, 2], and her research pace was as active as ever at the time of her premature death in 2014 ( Figure 1.2 ) .
Figure 1.1 Karen J. Brewer (1961-2014) in the Spring of 2014.
(Courtesy of Virginia Tech.)
Figure 1.2 Publications per year from 1985 to 2015.
Although known specifically for her various research contributions, Karen was also an award-recognized educator. She was comfortable teaching chemistry at all levels, from first-year students in general chemistry to graduate students in special topics classes such as electrochemistry and the photophysics of transition metal complexes. Her enthusiasm in the classroom was infectious and she inspired students to change not only their view of chemistry but, in some cases, their major to chemistry .
For many, including this author, Karen will be remembered most for her role as mentor and role model. She had tremendous impact on everyone who transitioned through her research laboratory, from undergraduates to postdocs. Throughout her career, Karen was a strong advocate for women and minorities in chemistry and was a role model and mentor for many female students and researchers [1, 2, 5]. Her passion in the promotion of chemistry as a career choice for women was most evident in her extensive outreach efforts to K-12 students. Throughout her career, she regularly visited primary and secondary school classrooms and hosted students in her laboratories at Virginia Tech [1, 2, 5]. In the process, Karen provided a real-life role model for young girls and others with aspirations to work in the physical sciences [1, 5].
Over the years, Karen received significant recognition for her collective efforts in research, teaching, and outreach. This included a College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Award in 1996, shortly after arriving at Virginia Tech [1, 5], as well as various teaching awards  and a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Innovator Award in 2010, which she shared with collaborator Dr Brenda Winkel [2-5]. Most recently, Virginia Tech recognized her outreach efforts with the 2014 Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence [1-4], which she shared with Dr Shamindri Arachchige, Virginia Tech instructor of chemistry and a former postdoctoral researcher from her research group [1, 5, 7].
1.2 Early Years
Karen Sonja Jenks was born on June 27, 1961, in Wiesbaden, Germany to parents Gerda and Henry Jenks [3, 4]. As the daughter of a career military man, Karen moved frequently in her youth ( Figure 1.3 ) [2-4], which provided her the opportunity to see much of the United States and the world as a young girl [3, 4]. The family ultimately settled in Lancaster, Sou