Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Mary Lou is the associate dean of the Idaho State University (ISU) College of Science and a senior reactor operator at ISU’s Aerojet-General Nucleonics nuclear reactor. She was the 66th president of the American Nuclear Society (from 2020 to 2021, and the fifth woman to be elected in ANS history), and her research projects on nuclear energy are published internationally.

It was a high school teacher who introduced chemistry and physics to Mary Lou in a way that made those subjects come alive and influenced her to major in chemistry. But growing up in Millersburg, PA, about 40 miles from Three Mile Island, at the time of the TMI-2 accident in March 1979, also had a profound effect on her. Rather than turn her off to nuclear power, TMI-2 convinced her to do something nuclear-related.

Dunzik-Gougar matriculated at Penn State in 1994, setting her sights on a master’s degree in environmental engineering and received her master’s degree from Penn State in 1997 under the supervision of Prof. Barry Scheetz, who guided her creation of a waste form for spent fuel processing calcines at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). In 1997, she had a summer internship at Argonne National Laboratory–West, which was merged with INEEL in 2005 to become Idaho National Laboratory. This led to an opportunity to return to Argonne-West to conduct research focused on processing fuel from the sodium-cooled fast spectrum Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) and modeling the use of zeolite to remove fission products from the molten salt used to process the fuel. Unfortunately, the EBR-II was shut down in 1994 when the Clinton administration removed funding for the Integral Fast Reactor program and she arrived at Idaho just a few years after EBR-II closed, and saw the effect the program’s loss had on Argonne employees.

Dunzik-Gougar received her nuclear engineering Ph.D. in December 2003, a took a job teaching at Idaho State University. At around that time,  Argonne-West merged with INEEL to become Idaho National Laboratory. Dunzik-Gougar found herself working with INL’s Kamal Pasamehmetoglu on a lab-directed research and development project creating a fuel cycle model from first principles. After Pasamehmetoglu was pulled into other tasks, Dunzik-Gougar took over administration of the project, called SINEMA (Simulation Institute for Nuclear Enterprise Modeling and Analysis).

Soon after, she found herself working in South Africa with their Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), a venture established in 1999 to build and demonstrate a small-scale helium-cooled high-temperature reactor. There she worked to help PBMR and the University of Pretoria in setting up a lab to study irradiated graphite for PBMR’s waste minimization program. This led to her work on a European Union–funded project focusing on the decontamination of radioactive graphite, as well as work on a Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) project, when she returned to Idaho. Dunzik-Gougar has since also worked as a consultant to Électricité de France on irradiated graphite waste treatment.

Dunzik-Gougar served as acting chair of the university’s Nuclear Engineering and Health Physics Department  and as the associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering. She also serves as the reactor administrator for ISU’s AGN-201 reactor, and became an NRC-licensed reactor operator and senior reactor operator.  Dunzik-Gougar is still doing active research, having been awarded a NEUP grant in October 2019 to develop a method of testing the tensile strength of TRISO fuel particle layers.