In the highly competitive and interdisciplinary field of surface science, Patricia A. Thiel, distinguished professor of chemistry at Iowa State University and a senior chemist at Ames Laboratory, stands out in her colleagues’ view as a player at the top of her game.
The late Theodore E. Madey, a chemistry and physics professor at Rutgers University, described Thiel as “an outstanding surface scientist—one of the most respected in the country—and a brilliant and imaginative physical chemist.” Thiel is also “very influential,” says Miquel Salmeron of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “and a perfect model for other scientists to follow.”
Thiel’s scientific contributions have deepened understanding in key areas of surface science, such as the properties of quasicrystals. These compounds, which include many alloys of aluminum, differ from conventional crystals in that they are ordered but lack three-dimensional periodicity.
Working with colleagues who have wide-ranging expertise, Thiel has elucidated quasicrystal surface structures and has developed fundamental explanations for the remarkable surface properties exhibited by these compounds. Those properties include striking oxidative stability, good wear resistance, and extremely low friction. Thiel is an internationally recognized expert in quasicrystals and has authored definitive review papers covering the topic.
Thiel has also studied nucleation, growth, and structure of thin metallic films. One of her group’s novel contributions in metal-film-growth dynamics is the recognition that large metal clusters can diffuse as individual units.
Another area of Thiel’s expertise is the structure and kinetics of water layers adsorbed on metal surfaces. Through clever use of isotope methods and analytical tools such as electron energy loss spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy along with a detailed comparison of results obtained from those techniques, Thiel and coworkers have helped researchers gain a better understanding of water-surface interactions and dynamic processes in adsorbed water layers.
Thiel, 56, completed her undergraduate education in chemistry at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minn., in 1975, and received a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from California Institute of Technology in 1981. She then conducted research with chemistry Nobel Laureate Gerhard Ertl at the University of Munich before taking a position as assistant professor of chemistry at Iowa State University in 1983. She served as department chair from 1999 to 2002. Since 1991, Thiel has also been a staff scientist at Ames Laboratory, where she has served as program director for materials chemistry and as Science & Technology Division director.
Thiel has published more than 250 articles in scholarly books and peer-reviewed journals and has been cited in scientific papers well over 7,000 times. She has served on the editorial and advisory boards of numerous journals, including Langmuir, Surface Science, the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology, and the Journal of Physical Chemistry.
Among other honors, she has been named a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics, and the American Vacuum Society. She has received honorary degrees from scholarly organizations in several countries, has served as a visiting professor in Japan and France, and has been invited to lecture at some 200 institutions and scientific conferences.
Thiel will present the award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.