Sarah Kirk

Professor of Chemistry; Associate Dean, Faculty Development
Specialty: Organic and Medicinal Chemistry


  • PhD, University of California, San Diego
  • BA, Whitman College


Since August 2015, I have served as the Faculty Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Willamette University. In this role, I work to enhance structures to better support faculty throughout their careers at Willamette. I provide leadership training and support for faculty, coordinates the faculty mentoring program and faculty development workshops, and supports diversity and equity initiatives within the college. I also serve as the STEM Administrator on our NSF-S-STEM grant. In preparation for the grant I brought in external consultants to assess the current areas of support as well barriers impacting the retention of students in the STEM fields at Willamette University. Particular focus was given to underrepresented, first- generation, and women students. Due in part to my participation on an NSF ADVANCE grant, I also led a regional workshop in which I surveyed faculty on perceptions of support within their institutions, identified institutional barriers to success, and presented strategies for better supporting women in the sciences. In addition to my administrative tasks, I am engaged in curricular Innovations in STEM. Supported through both internal and external funding, I have worked with colleagues to develop novel courses and laboratory curriculum for undergraduates in organic and biochemistry at Willamette University. As part of a 2011 NSF TUES grant, I helped create an integrated, instrument-intensive, project-based biochemistry laboratory for student learning and research, and partnered with faculty at Chemeketa Community College to ensure alignment with Willamette’s chemistry curriculum.

Professional Interests

Design and synthesis of novel tetracaine derivatives as potential ion channel blockers; Defining essential elements within novel molecules that dictate binding affinity and specificity; Binding and cleavage studies of ruthenium anti-cancer drugs with tRNA


Chem 110 Chemical Concepts and Applications

Chem 115 Introductory Chemistry I

Chem 116 Introductory Chemistry II

Chem 225 Organic Chemistry I

Chem 226 Organic Chemistry II

Chem 347 Experimental Biochemistry II

Chem 430 Advanced Topics: Bioorganic Chemistry

Chem 431 Advanced Topics in Biochemistry

Chem 495 Senior Research Projects I


  • B. G. Dwyer, E. Johnson, E. Cazares, K. L. McFarlane Holman, S. R. Kirk. "Ruthenium anticancer agent KP1019 binds more tightly than NAMI-A to tRNAPhe", J. Inorg. Biochem. 182177-183 (2018). 
  • 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); also published online at “Educational Portal of the Protein Data Bank (PDB)”:
  • Kirk S.R., Andrade, A.L, Melich K, Jackson E, Cuellar E, Karpen J. "Halogen substitutions on the aromatic moiety of the tetracaine scaffold improve potency of cyclic nucleotide-gated channel block" Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. (2011), 21, 6417-6419
  • Andrade A.L, Melich K, Whatley G.G, Kirk S.R., Karpen J.W. "Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channel Block by Hydrolysis-Resistant Tetracaine Derivatives." J. Med. Chem. (2011), 54, 4904-4912
  • T. Strassmaier, S.R. Kirk, T. Banerji, and J.W. Karpen, “Block of cyclic nucleotide-gated channels by tetracaine derivatives: role of apolar interactions at two distinct locations” Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 18, 645-649 (2008).
  • Kirk, S.R.; Silverstein, T.P.; Holman, K. L. M, “Metal Catalyzed Cleavage of tRNAPhe J. Chem. Educ., 85, 676-677. (2008).
  • Kirk, S.R.; Silverstein, T.P.; Holman, K. L. M, “UV Thermal Melting Curves of tRNAPhe in the Presence of Ligands” J. Chem. Educ., 85, 674-675 (2008).
  • Kirk, S.R.; Silverstein, T.P.; Holman, K. L. M., “Fluorescence Spectroscopy of tRNAPhe Y Base in the Presence of Mg2+ and Small Molecule Ligands” J. Chem. Educ. 85, 678-679. (2008).
  • Kirk, S.R.; Silverstein, T.P.; McFarlane Holman, K.L.; Taylor, B.H., “Probing Changes in the Conformation of tRNAPhe: An Integrated Biochemistry Laboratory Course” J. Chem. Ed., 85, 666-673 (2008).
  • S.R. Kirk, T.P. Silverstein, and J.J. Willemsen, "Teaching Biologically Relevant Chemistry Throughout the Four-Year Chemistry Curriculum" J. Chem. Ed. 83, 1171-1175 (2006).
  • S.R. Kirk, N.W. Luedtke, and Y. Tor, "2-Aminopurine as a Real-Time Probe of Enzymatic Cleavage and Inhibition of Hammerhead Ribozymes" Bioorg. Med. Chem. 9, 2295-2301 (2001).
  • S.R. Kirk, N.W. Luedtke, and Y. Tor, "Neomycin? Acridine Conjugate: A Potent Inhibitor of Rev-RRE Binding" J.Am. Chem. Soc. 122, 980-981, (2000).
  • S.R. Kirk and Y. Tor, "tRNAPhe Binds Aminoglycoside Antibiotics" Bioorg. Med. Chem. 7, 1979-1991, (1999).
  • S.R. Kirk and Y. Tor, "Hydrolysis of an RNA Dinucleoside Monophosphate by Neomycin B" Chem Commun. 147-149, (1998).


STEM Administrator and Co-PI on the NSF S-STEM: “Fostering equity, support, and community for underrepresented STEM students” (NSF 1742159), 2018-2022.

Murdock College Research Program for Natural Sciences – Physical Sciences Grant “The design and synthesis of tetracaine derivatives with enhanced acidity as potent cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel blockers”, 2015-2018.

Professor of the Year Award, Order of Omega, Willamette University, 2015

United Methodist Award for Exemplary Teaching and Service, 2014