Patricia Thiel

Patricia Thiel

“…one of the top three or four people in her field in the world”—Gary Korba  in Visions


Patricia Thiel (1953-), professor of chemistry at Iowa State, has never let the historically difficult path for women in the sciences become an obstacle to great achievements in her field.  She received her Bachelor’s degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1975 and her Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology in 1981. 

“I never felt out of place doing science and math,” she said in Visions magazine in Summer 1992.  “There weren’t programs for women in science then, and I don’t think they would have helped me much.  They would have helped people at that stage in their lives who were more attentive to social pressures.  But I was too out of it.  I was a nerd.”

Thiel’s nerdiness has led her to become a scientist of world-renowned.  

She began her career at Iowa State in 1983 as an assistant professor of chemistry and in two years became a Presidential Young Investigator.

In 1992, Thiel received a $250,000 research grant for her work in surface chemistry from the National Science Foundation for Outstanding Women in Science and Technology, and in 2000, she was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.   

The professor has offered the following advice to women in science and engineering:  “If you enjoy learning about (science) at the undergraduate level, the rewards can be even greater if you go into research because ... you can achieve those tremendous moments of insight and excitement.  You can make fundamental discoveries about nature’s secrets, something that one doesn’t often get a sense of at the undergraduate level.”

Pat Thiel