Dr. Pat Thiel

September 8, 2020

Our condolences to the family of Dr. Patricia (Pat) Thiel, who passed away this last Monday, September 7. She was beloved by many and will be sorely missed. From our department chair, "Pat was one of Iowa State’s greatest chemistry faculty, achieving the rank of Distinguished Professor and membership in the American Academy of Sciences. Pat was recognized for research, but she was also among our most popular instructors, and many of you know how she advocated for gender equity in louder and softer ways.  Beyond this, she was a friend.  She will be missed."


Patricia A. Thiel, age 67, died on Monday, September 7, 2020 from breast cancer.

Pat was a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and of Materials Science and Engineering, at Iowa State University, as well as a Faculty Scientist in the Ames Laboratory. She was known for her research on the formation and evolution of nanostructures on surfaces, and surface properties and structures of quasicrystals. She earned her B.A. 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, notably membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019), the David J. Adler Lectureship Award from the American Physical Society (2010), the Arthur W. Adamson Award from the American Chemical Society (2010), and the Medard W. Welch Award of the American Vacuum Society (2014). She authored or edited over 350 scientific publications. She served on numerous boards and committees for major scientific organizations, including editorial advisory boards for 10 journals. For 6 years, she served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Chemical Physics, one of the premier scientific journals in her field. Pat was very happy to be a scientist.

At Iowa State, she supervised the thesis research of about 30 Ph.D. students and 10 Master’s students, of whom she was also very proud. She also was a dedicated teacher. She served in several administrative posts within the University and Ames Laboratory, including Chair of the Department of Chemistry. She was recognized by Iowa State with awards for undergraduate teaching, graduate mentoring, service, and research. She was grateful for the opportunity to work at Iowa State and Ames Laboratory, because it was a very stimulating and supportive environment.

Pat was born in Adrian, Minnesota to Lawrence and Irene (Kormendy) Thiel, in the middle of a blizzard. She was raised on their farm near Lismore and was their only child. She attended St. Anthony’s Catholic Elementary School in Lismore, and Adrian Public High School. She is survived by her beloved husband, Jim Evans, and beloved daughters Amanda and Ellen, whom she regarded as her greatest gifts.

Pat leaves this message: “Mammograms can fail to detect breast cancer. About 10% of all breast cancers are of a type (like mine) that go undetected by mammograms until the late stages. If you have any symptoms whatsoever, such as pain or distortion in a breast, please seek a second opinion immediately--preferably at a major cancer center, where medical staff will have lots of experience in diagnosing diverse cancers.”

A Celebration of Life will be held at 11:00 A.M. on Friday, September 19, 2020 at the Great Hall, Memorial Union on the Iowa State University Campus.  Due to COVID-19, face masks and social distancing will be required.  The Celebration of Life will be livestreamed and may be accessed in Pat’s obituary on the Adams Funeral Home website.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Adams Funeral Home and online condolences may be left for Pat’s family at www.adamssoderstrum.com.  In lieu of flowers, memorials for future designation may be directed to the family of Patricia Thiel in care of the Adams Funeral Home, P.O. Box 745, Ames, Iowa 50010.