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Karen J. Brewer

by Susan J. Ainsworth
December 15, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 50

Karen J. Brewer, 53, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Virginia Tech, died in Blacksburg, Va., on Oct. 24.

The daughter of a career military man, Brewer was born in Wies­baden, Germany, and moved frequently in her youth. She received a B.S. degree in chemistry from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1983 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Clemson University in 1987. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, under Melvin Calvin.

Brewer then joined Washington State University’s chemistry department as an assistant professor. In 1992, she became an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Virginia Tech. She was named a professor in 2005.

Brewer earned international acclaim for her research in the areas of photochemical production of hydrogen gas and use of supramolecular complexes of ruthenium, platinum, and rhodium for the potential treatment of cancers by photodynamic therapy. She is credited with more than 100 publications. Brewer joined ACS in 1983.

She received numerous honors, including the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Innovator Award in 2010 and Virginia Tech’s Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence in 2014.

She was dedicated to outreach efforts, regularly visiting primary and secondary school classrooms, and hosting students in her labs at Virginia Tech. A passionate researcher and teacher, Brewer was also a strong advocate, role model, and mentor for women in chemistry.

She is survived by her daughters, Nicole and Kaitlyn.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at ­ and should include an educational and professional history.


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