Senior Scientist, Science
Karen's interest in science began in childhood. She was influenced, in part, by her father, a research immunologist, as well as by her three older brothers, who introduced her to music, photography, and painting. In high school in Salt Lake City, Karen assisted in the chemistry and physics labs and served as president of the science club (whose members spent more time cross-country skiing than conducting experiments).
At the University of Utah, while she majored in chemistry, she also took archaeology and art history courses. She recalls telling her father that she wished that she could find a way to combine art and science. Following graduation, with the strong encouragement of her mother, Karen attended graduate school at Cornell University and completed her PhD in chemical physics in 1989. But her attraction to art remained, and she regularly sat in on art history classes at Cornell. It was also there that she discovered conservation science, when she heard a lecture by Lambertus van Zelst, then head of the Smithsonian Conservation Analytical Laboratory.
Karen followed her graduate studies with two postdoctoral fellowships, the first at Northwestern University, where she met Simon, her husband-to-be. During a job interview at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, someone suggested that, given her interests, she should explore conservation. This idea prompted her to volunteer her services to the Art Institute of Chicago, where she helped determine the equipment needed to establish a conservation science lab. This project connected her with members of the conservation profession, one of whom suggested her for a one-year teaching appointment in the conservation program at Buffalo State University. In 1995, after a year at Buffalo, she was hired as a conservation scientist by the Detroit Institute of Arts, where she enjoyed regular contact with conservators and the opportunity to work with a variety of objects and materials. Karen was one of the first museum scientists to use Raman spectroscopy to examine works of art. She was also the first conservation scientist to be awarded a National Science Foundation grant.
Karen joined the GCI in 2004 to head the Institute's Museum Research Laboratory, welcoming the chance to make use of the GCI's technical resources and to be part of a larger scientific community. Her current work includes conducting a study of an early seventeenth-century manuscript on the history of Peru and setting up the GCI's scientific laboratory at the Getty Villa, which will focus on the Getty's antiquities collection.