Student Spotlight: Nicole Thiher

William Goldberg

Nicole Thiher

Hometown: Browntown, WI

Undergraduate Major: Chemistry and Mathematics

Graduate Major: Chemical Engineering

What drew you to the University of Iowa? 

I did my undergrad at a small school in Wisconsin. I knew almost any graduate program I chose would be at a school much larger than I was used to. When I toured Iowa, I was drawn to the small school feel of the Chemical & Biochemical Engineering Department. The graduate programs at other schools I toured seemed much more competitive, and I knew that I would find more success in the collaborative environment that I saw at the University of Iowa.   

What are your current research projects?

I am currently working to understand and expand the use of a technology called electron-beam (EB) polymerization. Polymerization is a process used to make polymers. Some common polymers are plastics, inks, and adhesives. Polymerizations are traditionally started using heat. Using EB to start these reactions requires less energy, no solvents, and can be done at room temperature, which makes EB polymerization significantly more environmentally friendly. Despite these advantages, EB polymerization is far less common than thermal polymerization. One reason EB is underutilized is a lack of understanding of the relationship between formulation chemistry, processing conditions, and final polymer properties. My research aims to determine these “recipes”, which will help expand the use of EB polymerization in industry.  

Name five of your favorite things? 

Cats, my husband, traveling, wine, and summer weather. 

What do you plan to do after completing your PhD? 

I want to find a research and development job in industry. I am hoping to continue working in the field of EB polymerization, but I am open to exploring other options. One thing that drew me to my research project how environmentally friendly EB polymerization is compared to more traditional polymerization techniques. I have a strong desire make a difference in the world and choosing a job that helps me accomplish that goal is very important to me.  

Why did you choose to pursue chemical engineering? 

After completing undergrad, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research. My bachelor’s degree is in chemistry, but I was drawn to chemical engineering because I wanted to solve real world problems. I still get to use the chemistry skills I obtained in undergrad but apply them in a slightly different way.  

What is the most enjoyable project on which you have worked? 

Everyone would expect this to be a research project, but I think it would be hard for me to choose which of my research projects is my favorite, so I am going to go with middle school outreach. I’ve gotten the chance to help organize and lead outreach activities numerous times as a graduate student. There is nothing that compares to the look of excitement on a student’s face when I tell them we are going to make edible polymer gummy worms.  

What is your favorite book, and why do you enjoy it? 

I am currently reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire (or the Game of Thrones series for fans of the TV show). I am a big fan of books set in fantasy worlds. I love to escape reality and get lost in a book that takes you to a world where magic and dragons are possible. A Song of Ice and Fire does that and so much more. As a reader I learned pretty quickly to expect the unexpected. I love a book that keeps you guessing. The series is not finished yet so I have a hard time saying it is my favorite without knowing the ending, but I am guessing it will not disappoint.  

What is your favorite restaurant in Iowa City? 

This one is tough because there are so many awesome restaurants to choose from. I’m going to go with Shorts because their blackbean burgers are delicious! 

Was there anything about Iowa City that surprised you when you moved here?

I would say the biggest surprise was the atmosphere in the Ped Mall during the summer. There is always something to do. I've been to outdoor concerts, farmers markets, and art festivals. I did not expect to see so much going on all in one place. 

Nicole Thiher
Meet Nicole Thiher