Karen J. Brewer, professor of inorganic chemistry in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, died Friday, Oct. 24, after a long illness.

Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1961, Brewer received her bachelor's degree from Wofford College in 1983 and a doctoral degree from Clemson University in 1987. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and an assistant professor of chemistry at Washington State University before coming to Virginia Tech in 1992.

Her work on light-activated cancer therapy with Brenda Winkel, head of the Department of Biological Sciences, earned the pair the 2010 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Innovator Award. She also received the 2014 Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence for a nearly decade-long program with Shamindri Arachchige, instructor of chemistry.

From the start of her tenure at Virginia Tech, she was a strong advocate for women and minorities in chemistry. A role model and mentor for many female chemistry students, she received a College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Award in 1996. 

She was a pioneer as a woman in the physical sciences in her own right, becoming only the second woman on the chemistry faculty when she joined Washington State University and the third woman hired in chemistry at Virginia Tech. 

Her efforts to promote chemistry as a career choice for women were most evident in her extensive outreach efforts to primary and secondary school students. Throughout her career she regularly visited K-12 classrooms and hosted students in her labs at Virginia Tech. This effort provided a real-life role model for young girls and others with aspirations to work in science. 

Brewer is survived by two daughters, Nicole and Kaitlyn Brewer of Blacksburg, her mother, Gerda Jenks of Lancaster, South Carolina, her brother Robert Jenks of Columbus, Georgia, a sister-in-law, two nephews, and many colleagues and students that she considered her extended family.

Memorial services will take place Friday, Oct. 31, at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. A viewing will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. and funeral services will follow at 2 p.m. There will be a brief graveside service at Memorial Gardens of the New River Valley. All services are open to those who would like to attend.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to Roanoke Wildlife Rescue.

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