As a boy watching his grandfathers work (one was a plumber and the other an auto-body repairman), Dan Thoma developed an artisan’s perspective of the use of metals in society.
Thoma, who obtained a PhD in metallurgical engineering and minor in chemistry at UW-Madison in 1992, has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico ever since. He now is director of the LANL Materials Design Institute, a collaborative research program with the University of California. His career at LANL began as team leader for alloy design and development with the metallurgy group in the materials science and technology division, where he grew his team to 12 people and an annual budget of $5 million.
In 2003, he became the associate director’s science advisor for the LANL Weapon Engineering and Manufacturing Directorate. He served as chair of the materials science and engineering council and United States chair for the joint working group on nuclear materials, a collaborative technical exchange program with the United Kingdom.
Thoma’s research interests include physical metallurgy, and in particular, microstructural development during materials processing. With more than 120 publications and 200 presentations, he devotes his technical efforts to alloying theory, thermodynamics and kinetics of phase transformations and property response.
Past president of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) and of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, Thoma is current president of the Federation of Materials Societies and board member for the United Engineering Foundation. In 2007, he received the LANL Fellow’s Prize for Leadership and the TMS Distinguished Service Award; in 2008, he earned the American Society of Materials International fellowship.
The early impressions of his grandfathers instilled in Thoma the importance of adult role models both socially and professionally. Displaying his lifelong passion for sports, the Dayton, Ohio, native coaches youth sports, through which he believes children can learn to develop balance and discipline in their lives. A 20-year supporter of Special Olympics, Thoma takes pride in coaching special-needs children, girls, and others who require strong role models.
Off the court, Thoma visits local schools as an advocate for math and physical sciences and coordinates an annual congressional visit for materials students in Washington, D.C. His wife, Ann, volunteers at the local family resource center and chaired their church’s Elizabeth Ministry. In 2008, the couple’s oldest son, Jon, went to Honduras to help at an orphanage the family supports — and to deliver soccer balls. Thoma has three other children: Andy, Nick and Rachel.