Unique Scientist: Thomas Nigl

Time to meet Thomas (Tom) Nigl (He/him)! Tom is a chemical & materials engineer at Pennsylvania State University in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a chemical engineer and materials scientist! My research areas include recycling used nuclear fuel, corrosion of advanced nuclear reactor systems, and liquid metal batteries. I just finished my tenure as President of the Penn State Science Policy Society and I also love teaching!

What made you want to become a scientist?
Since I was a young kid, I knew climate change was a huge problem facing our world. It also happened to pose some really interesting problems in terms of creating alternative sources of energy. While I was at Northeastern, I worked a couple of different co-op jobs in the energy field. Eventually I realized that in order to synthesize the knowledge needed to make huge advances in energy technology, I needed more training in how to think (hence the Ph.D.!) Moving forward, I can take my excitement for solving problems with my training in how to think to get us to a better future.

“I look forward to being a mentor/role-model to other budding scientists/engineers in the LGBTQ+ community, because every person should bring their whole self to their position and be able to celebrate all parts of themselves in all settings.”

Tom Nigl

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a first generation college and Ph.D. student, so when I was making my way through high school, college, and grad school, I often had to navigate the admissions processes and program experiences by seeking out other mentors and resources on my own (with exuberant support from my parents and family!) I also am a gay man, and I look forward to being a mentor/role-model to other budding scientists/engineers in the LGBTQ+ community, because every person should bring their whole self to their position and be able to celebrate all parts of themselves in all settings.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I am pretty obsessed with sports, mostly Boston sports teams and the Olympics! I swear, half of my clothing is somehow related to a professional Boston sports team. Being from the Greater Boston area and having a competitive side, I get a thrill every time I watch a home run knocked out of Fenway or a goal made in OT. Then every two years I get wicked excited watching all of the winter or summer Olympic events, which then spills over into grad school as I’m walking into lab listening to the Olympics theme. Plus I have a collection of different items from different Olympics host cities that I’ve visited!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish the funding model for scientific research [was] much easier for principal investigators. The process for writing grants and proposals to get enough funding for one project is gratuitously lengthy and very unpredictable. The managers and PI’s end up spending much more time securing funding and less time mentoring their employees/students, creating new knowledge, or solving the problems plaguing our world.

“Moving forward, I can take my excitement for solving problems with my training in how to think to get us to a better future.”

Tom Nigl

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My parents are absolutely the ones who started me on the path I am on today, with my mom constantly bringing me to museums and educational programs, and my dad supplying anything for my science fair projects and helping me build that PVC flute for Science Olympiad. One of my college professors, Luke Landherr, is a huge role model of mine, because he is the professor that no student presents less than their very best and the students know with his teaching, they can achieve their very best. He has inspired me to teach multiple semesters with my whole heart and go into teaching. The joy of seeing students understand concepts they’ve [struggled with] is a joy matched by few others. And today, my wonderful fiancé Nate is my rock; he makes me smile and laugh on the worst of days, he makes my heart full, and he is my daily motivation to continue moving forward towards making a difference in this world.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I’ve been putting together an LGBTQ+ Excellence in STEM event at Penn State for over a year now. We finally hosted it this past and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. The event featured an incredible group of speakers spanning so many identities, fields, and career experiences. Every attendee I spoke with was inspired and learned so much, and the whole experience just exuded pure excellence.


#FirstGenInSTEM, #QueerInSTEM

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