“Pat Thiel was interdisciplinary before interdisciplinary was cool,” said William Jenks, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, at a Sept. 18 memorial celebration for the world-renowned Iowa State scientist.
Thiel, a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, passed away earlier in the month, and family, friends, colleagues and students celebrated her at a tribute hosted on campus by Gordon Miller, University Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of chemistry, and the Iowa State chemistry department. “Interdisciplinary” was just one of the many words of obeisance used to describe Thiel, a Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, professor of chemistry and faculty scientist at Ames Laboratory.
Thiel, recognized around the world for her research in nanostructures, surface science growth and structurally-complex metallic alloys, had a prolific record of leadership and recognition. She was the first woman to serve as chemistry department chair at Iowa State; the first woman awarded the American Vacuum Society’s Medard W. Welch Award, the society’s highest honor; and the first woman to receive the American Chemical Society’s Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry.
“Pat Thiel’s contributions to the college, the university and to the field of chemistry are monumental,” said Beate Schmittmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “She will be greatly missed by many – for her high-caliber research, her commitment to students and for the lifelong friendships she built among her colleagues and the community.”
A champion of creating equal opportunities in science, Thiel demonstrated a deep commitment to nurturing students for success. Several graduate students provided narrative at the memorial about her influence as a mentor, educator and research pioneer.
“Pat has taught me so much and it is difficult to process her passing,” said Barbara Nielsen, a former graduate student and professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. “But I believe it is our duty as siblings in this family not to forget that upbringing and to continue Pat’s legacy.”
In recognition of her contributions, Iowa State University will name the north and south lobbies of Hach Hall in her honor; to be referred to as Thiel North and Thiel South. Forthcoming signage will reflect the names. Jenks noted the location was fitting, as Thiel had previously collaborated with artist Nori Sato to create the artistic design of the wall art of Thiel North. The art includes graphic references to some of Thiel’s research, which will provide a lasting visual reminder of her impact on the Department of Chemistry.
Thiel’s graduate students are working with the Iowa State University Foundation to establish a memorial fund in her honor. Memorial contributions can be directed to the Pat Thiel Memorial Fund, Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Boulevard, Ames, IA 50010. Gifts can also be made online at: www.isuf.info/gift (Scroll to the bottom of the page for memorial gifts and write in Pat Thiel Memorial Fund).
Thiel earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Macalester College in 1975, where she graduated summa cum laude, and her Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in 1981, where she won the highest award available to graduating Ph.D. students in chemistry. After postdoctoral work at the University of Munich as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, she joined the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories at Livermore, then moved to Iowa State University in 1983, where she spent the next 37 years. Her scientific research earned many recognitions, including the David J. Adler Lectureship Award from the American Physical Society, the Arthur W. Adamson Award from the American Chemical Society and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigation Award. She authored or edited more than 350 scientific publications. She served on numerous boards and committees for major scientific organizations, including editorial advisory boards for ten journals. For six years, she served as associate editor of the Journal of Chemical Physics, one of the premier scientific journals in her field.
At Iowa State, she supervised the thesis research of approximately 30 Ph.D. students and ten Master’s students. She took great pride in her students and her role as a teacher.