Iowa State’s Pat Thiel earns Welch Award for surface chemistry research

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Pat Thiel, Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and a faculty scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, is the 2014 winner of the AVS Medard W. Welch Award for her research in the field of surface chemistry.

Pat Thiel (Ames Laboratory Photo)

Thiel’s research seeks to understand the surface structures of complex materials. Her work has greatly advanced the understanding of quasicrystals and nanoparticles on metal and semiconductor surfaces. Surface chemistry research has led to advancements in many areas of society including energy production, health care and manufacturing.

The Welch Award, Thiel said, is meaningful to her because she regards it as the top honor in the field of surface chemistry and because three individuals who greatly influenced her career are previous winners. One of her mentors, Ted Madey, won it in 1985. She and Madey earlier had co-written a research paper that has “received thousands of citations” by other researchers and continues to be cited today.

“Ted really helped get my career started by co-authoring that paper with me when I was just a young assistant professor,” she said.

Also, Gerhard Ertl, her postdoctoral adviser who won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, won the Welch Award in 1995, and another mentor, John Yates, won it in 1994.

Thiel is the first woman to win the Welch Award in its 44-year history.

“Pat has been a leader at ISU and in surface science for years,” William Jenks, professor and chair of chemistry, said. “We know how outstanding she is here on campus – she is a distinguished professor for good reason. It’s extremely gratifying to see her outstanding work being recognized by her scientific colleagues around the world as well.”

Thiel came to Iowa State’s Department of Chemistry and the Ames Laboratory in 1983. In 2012, she also joined the ISU’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She has held several administrative posts including the Department of Chemistry chair and Ames Laboratory Chief Research Officer.

She received a Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in 1981 and did postdoctoral work at the University of Munich as a von Humboldt Fellow before joining the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, Calif.

Thiel has received major research awards from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and earned a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AVS, the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Physics, and the Materials Research Society. She is also an APS Outstanding Referee. In 2010 Thiel received both the David Adler Lectureship Award from the APS and the Arthur W. Adamson Award from the American Chemical Society.

She is an associate editor for the Journal of Chemical Physics and has been a member of editorial advisory boards for 10 journals.

The Department of Chemistry at Iowa State is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by ISU.

AVS is a professional society that supports networking among academic, industrial, government and consulting professionals with common interests related to the basic science, technology development and commercialization of materials, interfaces and processing area.


NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Pat Thiel, (515) 294-8985, Steve Jones, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-0461,