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Karen Holman

Professor of Chemistry
Specialty: Inorganic Chemistry

Headshot of Karen Holman

Contact Information

Salem Campus

Olin Science Center 316
900 State Street
Salem  Oregon  97301


  • 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. For a brief overview of her research topic, watch the TED Talk she gave at TEDxSalem in 2017!

Students use spectroscopic methods to determine the early reactions that these drugs undergo as soon as they are dissolved in water, as well as chemical reactions relevant to the hours that follow drug administration to the patients.  Prof. Holman has a long-standing collaboration with Prof. Sarah Kirk, where students study interactions of ruthenium-based drugs with RNA. 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 and her students have also collaborated with Prof. Chuck Williamson in the department and Dr. Robert Szilagyi at Montana State University.

In addition to using in-house spectroscopic techniques (NMR, UV-Vis, FTIR, and Raman), students in the Holman research group have employed X-ray absorption spectroscopy in past years. That work was carried out at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource 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).

Dr. Karen McFarlane Holman is one of three faculty members from 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. Read more about
her and other Willamette professors who have earned this award

Personal Interests

Dr. Holman enjoys spending time with her kids and playing punk rock on her 1971 Gibson Les Paul (check out her current bands City of Pieces and Hot Sheets). She is a DJ on the local community radio station KMUZ, and a podcaster for the show Cool Sheets. She loves traveling, wild water swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, and she practices meditation and yoga.

You might recognize her sweet Corgi, Griffin, as he visits the Willamette campus regularly.


  • 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)”
  • 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.
Willamette University

Department of Chemistry

Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-370-6013 voice
503-375-5425 fax