Brian Krohn's lifelong natural curiosity and drive to experiment has been rewarded with a Rhodes Scholarship.
Brian Krohn's first laboratory was in his family's basement in Cloquet, Minn., where he would take apart flashlights and use leftover construction materials to build such things as go-carts and potato cannons.
"Our parents made a big deal when we were growing up to make sure that we were very open and tried a lot of things," said Brian's sister, Kristina, a University of Minnesota Medical School student.
Brian's natural curiosity and drive to experiment has been rewarded.
The senior chemistry major at Augsburg College in Minneapolis was named a Rhodes Scholar on Saturday. Krohn, 22, who is in a select group of 32 Americans chosen for the award, will pursue a master's of science in environmental change and management at England's Oxford University.
He is the first Augsburg student to win a Rhodes Scholarship.
"A very normal person is a good way to describe me," Krohn said in a Sunday afternoon interview at Augsburg.
But Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow, in a letter to the Rhodes judges, called Krohn "one of the most intellectually accomplished, civically engaged and practically imaginative" students he's encountered in 25 years.
Krohn has worked with veteran scientists on a process that alters the production of biodiesel so it does not produce waste materials. He founded the Augsburg Honors Review so undergraduates would have a place to publish their research papers. And he worked with other environmentalists to push Augsburg's administration to use wind power and hybrid vehicles.
Krohn pursued those activities outside the classroom, where he was earning a 3.92 grade-point average. He'll graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and minors in mathematics and biology. Though he came to Augsburg as a film major, his natural love of science drew him back to the lab, he said.
"I want to work with people in impoverished areas to help provide them with local, renewable energy, to help promote values of environmental stewardship, and to advocate for the development of green economies," Krohn said in his personal statement to the Rhodes selection panel.
Curious from childhood
On Sunday, he was dressed in his only suit, featuring gray pinstripes, which he bought in Thailand while teaching English. Krohn, who grew up wearing casual clothes while canoeing and hiking in northern Minnesota, said he plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry following his study in England.
Before he begins that study next fall, he'll do research at the Anoka-based SarTec, which manufactures specialty products for the agriculture industry.
Clayton McNeff, a chemist and SarTec executive, said Krohn had done "cutting-edge research in the chemical and biological fields." He was involved in the research that led to SarTec's decision to build a 3 million-gallon a year biodiesel production facility in Isanti, Minn.
Krohn's parents, Tim and Mary, both graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with Mary earning a bachelor's degree in medical technology and Tim graduating with two degrees in forestry.
Brian is the youngest of three children. His brother Jeff, 27, is an engineer who lives in Duluth. Kristina is 25.
"I think our neighbors thought we were probably a little nuts," Mary joked. Her children always were trying something, such as using baking soda mixtures to pop covers off of things. And Brian and his junior high friends made "claymations" or videos that were shot of clay figures they made, she said.
"He was uncomfortable being anywhere near the center of attention growing up," Kristina said, but now "he can talk to just about anybody about just about anything."
Tim Krohn said he wanted each of his children to "have some kind of education to go out and be productive and useful in our world."
'The complete package'
From Bob Groven's vantage point, Brian Krohn will make a positive imprint on the world. Groven, who directs the Honors Program at Augsburg, said, "He is really one of those renaissance students who is the complete package. He is both talented in the sciences and the arts, but more than that, he is just a genuine, balanced person who really cares about making the world better."
Dixie Shafer, who helps Augsburg students bound for graduate programs, said Krohn has the "humbleness of a Minnesotan" as well as a strong drive to find answers to complex problems.
Krohn was the only Minnesotan named a Rhodes Scholar on Saturday, but a University of Minnesota student from South Dakota also was included in the select group.
Ashley Nord, of Rapid City, will graduate next month with a triple major in physics, astrophysics and global studies. Nord, a competitive college pole vaulter, will do doctoral studies in physics at Oxford.
In mid-November, a Macalester College senior was among the students from foreign countries selected as Rhodes Scholars. Michael Waul, a biochemistry major from Jamaica, intends to study medicinal chemistry at Oxford next fall.
Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709