FSU alumnus elected a fellow of top international scientific society

Mark Thiemens at the geographic South Pole in connection with his research. (Courtesy of Mark Thiemens)
Mark Thiemens at the geographic South Pole in connection with his research. (Courtesy of Mark Thiemens)

A Florida State University alumnus has been elected to the oldest and one of the most prestigious continuously existing scientific academies in the world in honor of his lifetime of work in chemistry, astrophysics and earth and environmental sciences.

Mark Thiemens, who earned his doctoral degree in chemical oceanography in 1977 from what is now the FSU Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science (EOAS), is among 90 researchers from around the globe named as a 2024 Fellow of the Royal Society. Thiemens currently serves as a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the John Dove Isaacs Endowed Chair in Natural Philosophy for Physical Sciences at the University of California San Diego.

“I am, for once, lost for words on what it means to me to be elected to such an important society for the history of science,” Thiemens said. “I cannot wait for the collaborations that will arise from this, and I am looking forward to meeting a plethora of talented scientists that make up this organization.”

The Royal Society is the United Kingdom’s nearly 400-year-old national academy of science and is composed of some of the world’s most preeminent scientists across all fields of study. Founded in 1660, the society’s missions include undertaking a range of activities to provide direct and indirect public benefit, recognize and elect distinguished scientists to their fellowship, and represent the UK’s research community while collaborating with international partners to advocate for science and its benefits. Other notable Royal Society fellows of the approximately 8,000 elected include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin, Venki Ramakrishnan, Stephen Hawking and more.

“I am pleased to welcome such an outstanding group into the Fellowship of the Royal Society,” said Sir Adrian Smith, Royal Society president. “This new cohort has already made significant contributions to our understanding of the world around us and continues to push the boundaries of possibility in academic research and industry. From visualizing the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution to leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, their diverse range of expertise is furthering human understanding and helping to address some of our greatest challenges.”

Thiemens has wide-ranging research interests, and his multidisciplinary work broadly seeks to enhance our knowledge of Earth’s systems. He has worked in atmospheric chemistry around the world, from Mount Everest to the South Pole, and he discovered the mass independent isotope effect, a phenomenon that helps explain our solar system’s origin as well as provides a quantitative way to track the origin of life across Earth’s earliest history. Thiemens identifies sources of greenhouses gases and breaks down the chemistry of past and present atmospheres on Earth and Mars, and he has developed rocket-based samplers for the upper atmosphere and designed experiments to investigate the fundamental quantum chemistry of isotope effects. He has also done extensive work using meteorites, such as from Mars, and lunar samples.

“Dr. Mark Thiemens is a truly remarkable scientist who has left an absolutely incredible legacy as evidenced by his unmatched list of research accomplishments and well-deserved honors, including this and his election to the National Academy of Science,” said Bob Hart, professor of meteorology and EOAS chair. “I also personally resonate with his altruistic nature as demonstrated by his mentoring of aspiring scientists still in junior high school and high school. He is a remarkable human being whom we can all learn from, and EOAS and FSU are enormously proud to count him amongst our alumni.”

In addition to this latest honor, Thiemens is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, the Meteoritical Society, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association for Geochemistry. He has earned more than 10 major awards and recognitions from various scientific societies, served on several academic panels including the Space Sciences Board and Board on Energy and Environment, and in 2007, an asteroid was named in his honor by the International Astronomical Union. Thiemens served as the founding dean of UCSD’s School of Physical Sciences and has been an editor for the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences since 2008.

“The best key to success, for me, is to love what you do, work at it and stay with it,” Thiemens said. “I am passionate about what I do because there is always something new to tackle. I am particularly interested in past climates and chemistry and study these using ice samples and ice core records from the South Pole and Mount Everest, as well as samples from Tibet, as 40 percent of the world’s water supply comes from the Tibetan Plateau. I have spent about 10 years researching in and around Tibet to see if understanding the climate’s past will help predict how the Tibetan glaciers will melt and affect everything from El Niño to sea-level rise.”

EOAS alumni are among the world’s top researchers in meteorology, geology, environmental science and oceanography. They serve as leaders and directors of esteemed scientific academies, editors of revered academic journals, and chief members of leading industry organizations.

“This is such a great honor and tribute to Mark’s career,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sam Huckaba. “We are very proud of his accomplishments, and it is a privilege to call him an alumnus of our program.”

To learn more about the FSU Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, visit eoas.fsu.edu.