2 faculty members honored with prestigious award for scholarship, teaching, and service
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Peter Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health in the College of Public Health, and Lea VanderVelde, professor of law and the Josephine R. Witte Chair, have been named recipients of the 2022 University of Iowa Distinguished Chair.

Previous University of Iowa Distinguished Chair awardees

  • Stanley Perlman, professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Carver College of Medicine (2021)
  • Michelle Scherer, professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering (2021)
  • Corinne Peek-Asa, professor in the College of Public Health (2020)
  • Caroline Tolbert, professor of political science, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2020)

The award is one of the highest bestowed on Iowa faculty. It recognizes tenured scholars of national and international distinction who are making a significant positive impact within the university, state of Iowa, and beyond through teaching, research, and/or scholarship.

“The University of Iowa Distinguished Chair rewards and recognizes some of the most exceptional members of our community of scholars, who have earned national and international distinction,” says Kevin Kregel, executive vice president and provost. “Professors Thorne and VanderVelde have outstanding records of scholarship, teaching, and service, and their work not only contributes to the institution, but to the state of Iowa and beyond.”

In addition to support for their professional activities, Thorne and VanderVelde will hold the title of University of Iowa Distinguished Chair for the duration of their faculty appointments at Iowa. VanderVelde will relinquish her endowed position to accept the University of Iowa Distinguished Chair.

Peter Thorne, College of Public Health

Thorne, who also serves as the director of the Human Toxicology Program within the Graduate College, joined the Iowa faculty in 1988. His pioneering research is focused on environmental risk factors for inflammatory lung diseases, the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials and persistent chemical pollutants, and the health effects of climate change.

Peter Thorne
Peter Thorne

Thorne is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences in translating complex environmental health science to public policy. He is serving a third, three-year term on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and served two years as chair. Thorne was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology for six years. He is the current chair of the academy’s Committee on Toxicology.

At Iowa, Thorne directed the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center for 20 years and served as head of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health for 12 years. He has led the Pulmonary Toxicology Facility core since 1993. Thorne was awarded the 2017 UI Scholar of the Year and the 2018 Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence. He teaches courses on health effects of climate change, global environmental health, and human toxicology. He has mentored 25 PhD students, 30 master’s students, and 18 postdoctoral fellows. With his students and staff, he has published more than 290 peer-reviewed publications.

Lea VanderVelde, College of Law

VanderVelde—one of the first women ever tenured in the College of Law—joined Iowa as a visiting faculty member in 1978. Her research focuses on how American civil rights and civil liberties law was formed during Reconstruction, bringing to light the 13th Amendment’s potential for addressing current issues. Her research has changed the way subsequent scholars and lawyers think about civil rights.

Lea VanderVelde
Lea VanderVelde

VanderVelde has been involved in initiatives to advance civil liberties and end modern slavery, authoring several amicus briefs and successfully nominating her friend Kailash Satyarthi, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She has pursued digital research technology through the Reconstruction Amendment Optical Scanning (RAOS) project, which she founded more than 20 years ago. She successfully digitized the Congressional debates from 1863 to 1873, which will be useful for legislative histories. In cooperation with state historical societies, she has made discoveries about the territorial histories of Iowa and all of the surrounding states of the Northwest Territory. She is the author of five major books, two history monographs, two leading casebooks, and a primer for text analysis. One of her books, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier, reveals the previously untold story of the enslaved mother and family at the center of the nation’s most infamous lawsuit.

VanderVelde was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies for 2011, the recipient of the May Brodbeck Humanities fellowship for 2019, the 2020 winner of the Brophy prize for best article in legal history published in the American Journal of Legal History, and the 2022 UI Scholar of the Year. She is a life fellow of the American Law Institute, where she was active in the Restatement of Employment Law and the Restatement of Agency. She has been a member of the Wisconsin State Bar since 1978 and has lectured at universities around the world.