Karen McFarlane Holman

Professor of Chemistry
Specialty: Inorganic Chemistry


  • Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
  • B.A., Willamette University


Professional Interests

In Prof. Karen Holman's research group, students investigate fundamental chemical reactions of ruthenium anti-cancer drugs and carry out biochemical studies related to the mechanisms of action of this class of metal-based chemotherapeutics. To this end, her group provides details of early reactions of the drugs prior to being administered to the patient as well as reactions that may be taking place within the body.
Dr. Holman’s students synthesize their compounds of interest and many projects have focused on the intriguing aspects of ligand-exchange reaction mechanisms of ruthenium compounds. NMR spectroscopy, UV-Vis spectroscopy, and Raman (in collaboration with Prof. Chuck Williamson) are the primary techniques used for these physical inorganic studies.
Of immense interest are the interactions of ruthenium-based drugs with biomolecules (in collaboration with Prof. Sarah Kirk), especially studies that pertain to RNA. Students working with Profs. Holman and Kirk have presented their work at regional, national, and international conferences over the years. Ruthenium-RNA interactions have also been studied in collaboration with Dr. Victoria DeRose at the University of Oregon. In 2011, Dr. Holman, Dr. DeRose and their students published the first study that established binding of a Ru-based drug to RNA in cells. Karen Holman has also collaborated with Dr. Robert Szilagyi (Montana State University) whose group has provided comparative Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations to support experimental results.
Students in the Holman research group have also employed X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) in past years. This work was carried out at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the SLAC National Accelerator Center (beamlines 6-2, 4-3, 10-1 and 7-3) and at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (beamline 9.3.1). Dr. Holman served a three-year elected term on the Executive Committee of the SSRL Users’ Organization (2006-09).
In 2010, Dr. Karen McFarlane Holman became the third faculty member in the Willamette Chemistry Department to be named Oregon Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Personal Interests

Dr. Holman enjoys spending time with her kids, playing punk rock on her 1971 Gibson Les Paul, being a DJ on the new local community radio station KMUZ, traveling, yoga, and hiking.


  • T. P. Silverstein, S. R. Kirk, S. Meyer, K. L. McFarlane Holman. “Myoglobin structure and function: A multi-week biochemistry laboratory project”, Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ. 43, 181-188 (2015).
  • T. P. Silverstein, K. L. McFarlane Holman, J. C. Williamson. “Undergraduate Research and the Chemistry Major Capstone Experience at Willamette University”, CUR Quarterly, (Summer 2014).
  • A.A. Hostetter, M.L. Miranda, V.J. DeRose, K.L. McFarlane Holman. "Ru Binding to RNA Following Treatment with the Antimetastatic Prodrug NAMI-A in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and in vitro", J. Biol. Inorg. Chem., 16, 117-1185 (2011).
  • T.V. Harris, R. K. Szilagyi, K. L. McFarlane Holman. “Electronic Structural Investigations of Ru-containing Compounds and Anticancer Prodrugs”, J. Biol. Inorg. Chem., 14, 891-898 (2009).
  • S.R. Kirk, T.P. Silverstein, K.L.M. Holman, “Metal Catalyzed Cleavage of tRNAphe" J. Chem. Educ., 85, 676-677. (2008).
  • S.R. Kirk, T.P. Silverstein, K.L.M Holman, “UV Thermal Melting Curves of tRNAphe in the Presence of Ligands” J. Chem. Educ., 85, 674-675 (2008).
  • S.R. Kirk, T.P. Silverstein, K.L.M Holman, “Fluorescence Spectroscopy of tRNAphe Y Base in the Presence of Mg2+ and Small Molecule Ligands” J. Chem. Educ. 85, 678-679. (2008).
  • S.R Kirk, T.P. Silverstein, K.L.M McFarlane Holman, B.H Taylor, “Probing Changes in the Conformation of tRNAphe: An Integrated Biochemistry Laboratory Course” J. Chem. Ed., 85, 666-673 (2008).
  • R. M. Cinco, J. H. Robblee, J. Messinger, C. Fernandez, K. L. M. Holman, K. Sauer and V. K. Yachandra. “Polarized Strontium EXAFS of Photosystem II Membranes Reveals the Orientation of the Calcium Cofactor in the Oxygen-Evolving Complex”, Biochemistry, 43(42), 13271-13282 (2004).
  • K. L. McFarlane Holman, M. J. Latimer and V. K. Yachandra. “A Liquid Helium Cryostat with Internal Fluorescence Detection for X-ray Absorption Studies in the 2-6 keV Energy Region”, Review of Scientific Instruments, 75, 2056-2060 (2004). (This publication was also selected to appear in the June 2004 issue of Virtual Journal of Biological Physics Research.)
  • R.M. Cinco, K.L. McFarlane Holman, J.H. Robblee, J.Yano, S.A. Pizarro, E. Bellacchio, K. Sauer and V.K. Yachandra. "Calcium EXAFS Establishes the Mn-Ca Cluster in the Oxygen-Evolving Complex of Photosystem II", Biochemistry, 41(43), 12928-12933 (2002).
  • J.H. Robblee, J. Messinger, R.M. Cinco, K.L. McFarlane, C. Fernandez, S.A. Pizarro, K. Sauer, V.K. Yachandra. "The Mn Cluster in the S-O State of the Oxygen-Evolving Complex of Photosystem II Studied by EXAFS Spectroscopy: Are There Three di-mu-oxo-bridged Mn-2 Moieties in the Tetranuclear Mn Complex?" J. Am. Chem. Soc., 124(25), 7459-7471 (2002).
  • J. Messinger, J.H. Robblee, U. Bergmann, C. Fernandez, P. Glatel, H. Visser, R.M. Cinco, K.L. McFarlane, E. Bellacchio, S.A. Pizarro, S.P. Cramer, K. Sauer, M.P. Klein, and V.K. Yachandra. "Absence of Mn-Centered Oxidation in the S2 to S3 Transition: Implications for the Mechanism of Photosynthetic Water Oxidation" J. Am. Chem. Soc., 123(32), 7804-7820 (2001).
  • E. Bellacchio, K.L. McFarlane, A. Rompel, J.H. Robblee, R.M. Cinco, K. Sauer, M.P. Klein, and V.K. Yachandra. "Counting the Number of Disulfides and Thiol Groups in Proteins and a Novel Approach for Determining the Local pKa for Cysteine Groups in Proteins in vivo" , J. Synchrotron Rad., 8(3), 1056-1058 (2001).
  • A. Rompel, R.M. Cinco, J.H. Robblee, M.J. Latimer, K.L. McFarlane, J. Huang, M.A. Walters, and V.K. Yachandra. "S K- and Mo L-Edge X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy to Determine Metal-Ligand Charge Distribution in Molybdenum-Sulfur Compounds" , J. Synchrotoron Rad., 8(2), 1006-1008 (2001).
  • U. Bergmann, P. Glatzel, J.H. Robblee, J. Messinger, C. Fernandez, R. Cinco, H.Visser, K. McFarlane, E. Bellacchio, S. Pizarro, K. Sauer, V.K. Yachandra, M.P. Klein, B.L. Cox, K.H. Nealson, and S.P. Cramer. "High-resolution X-ray Spectroscopy of Rare Events: a Different Look at Local Structure and Chemistry" , J. Synchrotron Rad., 8(2), 199-203 (2001).
  • J.H. Robblee, J. Messinger, C. Fernandez, R.M. Cinco, H. Visser, K.L. McFarlane, U. Bergmann, P. Glatzel, S.P. Cramer, K. Sauer, V.K. Yachandra, M.P. Klein "Oxidation states of the Mn cluster in the S-states of the oxygen-evolving complex of PSII", J. Inorg. Biochem., 74, 278 (1999).
  • R.M. Cinco, C. Fernandez, J. Messinger, J.H. Robblee, H. Visser, K.L. McFarlane, U. Bergmann, P. Glatzel, S.P. Cramer, K. Sauer, V.K. Yachandra and M.P. Klein. "Refined Model of the Oxidation States and Structures of the Mn/Ca/Cl Cluster of the Oxygen Evolving Complex of Photosystem II", Photosynthesis: Mechanisms and Effects, Vol. II, G. Garab, Ed.; Kluwer Acad. Publishers, The Netherlands, 1998; pp. 1273-1278.
  • K.L. McFarlane, B. Lee, W. Fu, R. van Eldik, and P.C. Ford. "Reactive Intermediates in the Photodecarbonylation of the Cyclopentadienyl and Indenyl Complexes CpFe(CO)2(C(O)CH3) and IndFe(CO)2(C(O)CH3) (Cp = η5-C5H5; Ind = η5-C9H7)", Organometallics, 17, 1826-1834 (1998).
  • K.L. McFarlane and P.C. Ford. "Room Temperature Reactions of the Intermediate(s) Generated by Flash Photolysis of (η5-C5H5)Fe(CO)CH3", Organometallics, 17, 1166-1168 (1998).
  • K.L. McFarlane, B. Lee, J. S. Bridgewater and P.C. Ford. "Time Resolved Infrared Spectroscopy as a Technique to Study Reactive Organometallic Intermediates", J. Organoment. Chem., 554, 49-61 (1998).
  • W.T. Boese, K.L. McFarlane, B. Lee, J. Rabor and P.C. Ford. "Photochemistry as a Tool for Elucidating Organometallic Reaction Mechanisms", Coord. Chem. Rev., 159, 135-151 (1997).
  • P.C. Ford, W.T. Boese, B. Lee and K.L. McFarlane. "Photocatalysis Involving Metal Carbonyls", Chapter 12 in Photosensitization and Photocatalysis by Inorganic and Organometallic Compounds, M. Graetzel and K. Kalyanasundaram, Eds.; Kluwer Acad. Publishers, The Netherlands, 1993.