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Karen M. Strom (1941–2014)

Published onDec 01, 2018
Karen M. Strom (1941–2014)

John Irwin Slide Collection

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Karen Marie Strom, longtime researcher in the processes of star formation, died of a sudden illness on 29 April 2014. Strom was born on 18 August 1941 in Fairfax, Oklahoma, to Ray Wilson and Lillian Mae (Schurch) Lewallen. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College in 1964, then worked for several years as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory before moving in 1969 with her husband, Stephen, and her children to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she was a research associate. In 1972 the family moved to the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, and she and Stephen studied star formation and galactic structure. At Kitt Peak, Karen led or contributed to numerous papers on T Tauri stars and their circumstellar disks, envelopes, and outflows, including studies of nebular Herbig-Haro objects. She also carried out research on other aspects of stellar evolution, as well as important work investigating the stellar populations of other galaxies. She, along with her husband Stephen and their colleagues, conducted some of the first infrared surveys of star-forming regions and developed early approaches to image processing, work that contributed to the development, at NOAO, of the Image Reduction and Analysis Facility (IRAF), a general purpose software system for the reduction and analysis of astronomical data.

In 1983, the Stroms left Kitt Peak for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Karen served as a Research Professor until her retirement from astronomy in 1998. Karen received an honorary Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1995 from Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) in Puebla, Mexico. As an astronomer, Karen is perhaps best known for her estimate of the lifetimes of circumstellar accretion disks surrounding T Tauri stars in the Taurus-Auriga dark cloud (a fundamental constraint on theories of gas-giant planet formation,) as well as multi-wavelength studies of the young stellar populations in the L1641 region of the Orion A molecular cloud and other regions.

Karen Strom was also an early innovator on the World Wide Web, leading the development of one of the first academic departmental websites, which highlighted the UMass Amherst and Five College Astronomy Department research. She pioneered hypertext for astronomy research and education, including some of the first digital publishing of PhD dissertations. She also created the first public clickable map for the state of Massachusetts.

After her retirement from astronomy, Karen traveled worldwide, developed websites for Native American artists, consulted on web-based education, and resumed her longstanding interest in photography. She is publisher or co-publisher of numerous e-books, including Sticks and Stones: an alphabet book for the 21st century, and An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to Death Valley. Examples of her fine art photography can be found online at

Karen Strom is survived by her husband Stephen, daughters Kathy Huntington and Julie Strom, and sons Robert Strom and David Strom. She had six grandchildren. Asteroid 4604 Stekarstrom is named in honor of Karen and her husband.

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