Research is one of the core foundations of the University of Iowa mission, alongside teaching and public service. Iowa professors are researchers as well as teachers, and Iowa students sometimes complement their education by working as research assistants. As a result, many Iowa alumni and faculty members have earned worldwide recognition for the research-related discoveries and other contributions in their field.
- Colleen Konicki DiIorio—A 1969 graduate of the Iowa College of Nursing who has become a renowned researcher in the areas of AIDS and epilepsy, collecting millions in funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health. Her colleagues recognize her as the first in her profession to receive funding for HIV prevention and to publish epilepsy self-management research findings. BSN, 1969.
- Don Gurnett—Discovered measurements showing that the Earth's aurora is a source of low-frequency radio emissions. He has worked on more than 25 major spacecraft projects for NASA and specializes in experimental space plasma physics. BSE, Electrical Engineering, 1962. He has been on the faculty in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy since 1965.
- Bruce C. Heezen—Oceanographer and pioneer in plate tectonics. By the time he was 30, he had obtained mineral specimens 10,000 years old that helped decipher the history of the Earth. BA, Geology, 1948. He died in 1977.
- Bingnan Lin—A senior design team member on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in the People's Republic of China, the largest dam design and construction project in the world. MS, 1947; PhD, Mechanics and Hydraulics, 1951.
- Harry F. Olson—A pioneer and leading authority in acoustics and electronic sound recording, Olson developed magnetic tape recorders for sound and television, the electronic music synthesizer, and underwater sound equipment. Bachelor of Engineering, 1924; Electrical Engineering degree, 1932. He died in 1982.
- James Van Allen—World-famous physicist and discoverer of two radiation belts (the Van Allen Belts) that surround the Earth. MS, 1936; PhD, Physics, 1939. Emeritus Carver Professor of Physics at The University of Iowa. He died in 2006.
- James L. Watson—A distinguished anthropologist specializing in knowledge of contemporary China. He has taught at Harvard and at the Universities of London, Hawaii, and Pittsburgh. BA, Asian Languages and Literature, 1965.