Meet Dr. Thomas -- Spring 2016

Dr. Thomas at her retirement reception











Hello and welcome to Chem 1415!! 

"Who is that person teaching my chemistry class?"  Here is your chance to know more about me than you probably ever wanted to know!

I retired in March 2013 after 32 years as a UNT faculty member and administrator. However, I love the interaction with students and was excited about the opportunity to come back and teach part-time as part of UNT's modified service program. As part of this program, I am teaching one class this semester.


First of all, here is my contact information:

Now here is a little more about me:

Undergraduate degree.  I grew up in a small town in west central Ohio. My family did not have a lot of resources, but I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship that enabled me to attend college. I had always loved math and intended to major in mathematics. However, I also really enjoyed science and particularly fell in love with organic chemistry lab my sophomore year. It was at that time that I switched my major to chemistry. I also did undergraduate research, which convinced me that I wanted to be a research scientist.

Work in the real world.  After graduation, I worked for approximately two years at Battelle Columbus Labs as a research chemist.  I did a variety of very interesting things, including testing extracts from seaweed for use as thickeners in ice cream and developing methods to identify drugs in blood and urine. As the world's largest independent research and development organization, Battelle was a very interesting place to work

Back to graduate school.  Newly married and with my undergraduate debts retired, I enrolled in graduate school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, to do my doctoral work.  My research centered on Group 13 (aluminum, gallium, indium) and Group 1 (lithium) organometallic compounds.

Off to Texas.  After receiving my doctoral degree, I interviewed for multiple faculty jobs around the country. At that time North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) had a large number of faculty and students doing organometallic research, which was a great fit for my interests. I accepted their offer to join the chemistry faculty. We packed up the family and moved to Texas in the summer of 1981.  I am not a native Texan, but as the saying goes, I got here as fast as I could. 

Dr. Thomas and a graduate student working on the high vacuum lineResearch.   My research interests over the years centered on the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques and their application to the study of the structures and properties of main group organometallic compounds, especially organolithium compounds.  Organolithium compounds are used commercially in the preparation of pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, and even polymers for truck tires. Without a knowledge of the structures and properties of the compounds, development and optimization of their use is by trial and error. By understanding their properties, their use can be developed in a more rational fashion. In fact, we designed and developed several new organolithium compounds which have specific applications to organic synthesis. 

In the world of organolithium chemistry there are always exciting new discoveries to be made.  It has been a real thrill to discover an entire new class of compounds (lithium hydride/lithium alkoxide mixed aggregates) and have the opportunity to explore their chemistry.  Most people outside of science can understand the thrill of exploration of big science (underwater exploration or trips to Antarctica), but finding new compounds never before known by anyone else in the world is just as exciting, just as cutting-edge, and may ultimately have more impact on our day-to-day existence.  The synthetic techniques used to make the compounds (including the vacuum line shown on the right) and the NMR techniques we used to study them have much broader use.  Therefore synthesizing and studying these compounds also served as powerful training tools for my students.

Administrative duties.  From 1993-2007, I was Chair of the Department of Chemistry at UNT.  During that time the department grew and matured.  We added numerous new degrees and programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, expanded the size of the graduate program, added an endowed Welch Chair in Chemistry, and built a new building. 

In Fall 2007, I was Interim Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering at UNT.  This was the semester when this brand new department was just beginning to take students. It was exciting to get to know and work more closely with the faculty and students in the College of Engineering.  

In February 2008 I became Associate Vice President for Research and was promoted to Senior Associate Vice President for Research in July 2011. I enjoyed that position and the opportunities it provided for me to help faculty and students across the campus expand their research activities.  One of my major responsibilities was helping to develop large research infrastructure to support student and faculty research on campus, especially in science and engineering. This included the original purchase and subsequent upgrade of UNT's superconducting computer named Talon, the development of a new Nanofabrication Research Facility (cleanroom), and multiple other facilities.

TAMS student Elizabeth Morales and Dr. Thomas in the Weddell Sea off of AntarcticaOther fun professional things.  One of the joys of being a college professor was the breadth of things I have gotten to do over the years as part of my professional life.   Since many of the prominent main group chemists are in Europe, I made multiple trips to Europe to discuss my research at conferences and universities.  A little bit more on the exotic side was a six week NSF-funded science expedition to Antarctica in 1992 with Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science student Elizabeth Morales.  The picture to the left is of Elizabeth and me on one of our last days on an ice floe in the Weddell Sea. It was one of the warmer days, approximately -15 F. Although it looks like we are standing on land, it was actually frozen ocean (approximately 3-4 feet thick). My story of the trip appeared in serial form in Fall, 1992, in three issues of Retort, a publication of the Dallas-Fort Worth Section of the American Chemical Society. 

At the other temperature extreme was a trip in 2000 to the oasis city of Al-Ain in the desert of the United Arab Emirates.  I spent a week working with three other college administrators from across the U.S. as a consultant to the United Arab Emirates University at Al-Ain teaching their chairs how to be effective administrators.  Although I did not realize it at the time, this was particularly noteworthy because it was one of the first times a woman had been involved in such an activity in the UAE. 

Dr. Thomas and husband in Big Bend National ParkSpare time activities.  When I am not thinking about chemistry, I like to spend time with my husband, read, or commune with nature by hiking. The picture to the left is of my husband and me on a backpacking trip several years ago in Big Bend National Park in south Texas.  More recent trips include Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone National Parks and many Texas State Parks. Most of our hiking adventures include geocaching, what some have called "hiking with a purpose".  Geocaching has introduced us to some marvelous places that we would never have known about otherwise.  We also try to find time to visit our daughter and son-in-law, who are software engineers in California.


Alex lounging at the computerFinally, I should mention the furry feline member of our family, Alex.  Alex is an orange tabby. He likes to think of himself as king of beasts, but he is really the ultimate cowardly lion.  As you can see from the picture to the right (which is actually from many years ago, as you can probably tell from the old-style monitor) Alex likes to help me with computer activities.  

I doubt that anything here will help you learn chemistry any better.  I do hope, however, that this may change your image, if only slightly, of the "white lab coat/pocket protector" image of the research scientist or college science professor.  Scientists come from all backgrounds and are every type of person imaginable.  The common denominator is that we really love to learn about how the world works.  I hope I can share some of my enthusiasm for that with you.

Ruthanne Thomas          
January, 2016              

Written and maintained by R. D. Thomas
1155 Union Circle #305070, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203-5070
For more information contact the Department of Chemistry at the University of North Texas