Karen A. Thole, Virginia Tech professor of mechanical engineering, is the first female recipient of an endowed engineering professorship at the university. Thole has received the William S. Cross Professorship in the College of Engineering, established in 1984 by a generous gift from William S. Cross Jr., of Greensboro, N.C.

Thole received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1992 and joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1999. Thole’s primary areas of expertise are heat transfer and fluid mechanics specializing in turbulent boundary layers, convective heat transfer, and high freestream turbulence effects.

Thole has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers with a number of these presentations given to international audiences, and has advised more than 25 graduate theses. She serves as an associate technical editor of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Journal of Heat Transfer.

She received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 1996, which was directed at developing a better understanding of turbine heat transfer and at teaching a lab course to first-year women engineering students. In 2004, Thole was selected to be a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and was inducted into the University of Texas at Austin Mechanical Engineering Distinguished Alumni Academy.

Thole is also one of the principal investigators on the Institutional Transformation Award from the National Science Foundation’s Advance Program. The Advance Program is aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. Thole is an AdvanceVT professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

During the past several years, Thole has developed a number of unique testing facilities directed towards gas turbine heat transfer issues including a combustor simulator that replicates the flow field effects relevant to those entering the turbine section of an engine. Resulting from this work, the Air Force Research Lab requested her to duplicate this capability in their multi-million dollar Turbine Research facility.

She is the chair of the Academic Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Energy’s University Turbine Systems Research Program. Her two patents for a fillet design, developed to reduce heat transfer at the leading edge of turbine airfoils, are now being incorporated into the most recent turbine design.

Thole has been solely responsible for attracting funding of more than $5 million from such agencies as the Department of Energy, U.S. Air Force, Pratt & Whitney, Modine Manufacturing, and Siemens-Westinghouse.