Laboratory Manager and Technical Lead
Idaho National Laboratory
Dawn Scates grew up with her mother and grandfather in Chicago but always dreamed of the day when she could of escape that rough environment. She remembers they almost had to move into the then infamously violent Cabrini-Green projects.
With the support of her family, she learned to embrace education and self-reliance and excelled at all subjects in school.
The family eventually moved to California to be close to an aunt in case her guardian’s health worsened, and she remembers something her grandpa said to her that resonated and helped shape her life: “He said, ‘If you want a good job, go into the sciences,’” she recalled.
“I loved the space program and grew up watching it,” she added.
Scates pursued her bachelor’s degree in physics at California State University, Bakers eld, and then her master’s in physics at Idaho State University (ISU). It was the most affordable and distinguished place she could find for furthering her education, and she could take her family’s two dogs with her, which was a big decision-maker.
When she was hired at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), she broke into what was and still is a male-dominated eld. Today, she is a laboratory manager and technical lead.
The INL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s complex of national laboratories and is the nation’s lead center for nuclear energy research and development. Working there for almost 21 years, Scates loves the diverse nature of her job and hopes to remain there throughout her career.
“Every day is different, and I get to work with a lot of interesting researchers,” she said.
Scates is a participant in the My Amazing Future Program, which encourages girls to pursue careers in science. The event for junior high students is held at INL, and it teaches them about everything from slime to making snow to show the importance of science.
Scates’s own teenage daughters are showing an interest in science as well, and she and her husband, also a physicist, have Sunday science projects. The teens spend most of their time enjoying 4-H events, hanging out with their pets and riding their horses, which their mother does with them on their property.
“It’s like a fairyland,” she said.
Scates tells them they have to excel and be motivated to achieve their goals to live a life they enjoy. As for her advice on success, she said: “You’ve got to get over your insecurities and just ask questions. Even if the question is stupid, you should ask it because someone else might not know the answer either. You are paying those professors to give you clarification.”
Scates’s colleague and fellow ISU graduate, Catherine Riddle, thinks she is breaking the mold.
“With her leadership role at INL, her accomplishments in nuclear fuels development and her passion for educating young students, Dawn is an excellent role model, especially for young women,” Riddle said. “She is sought out by others to lead projects and bring new ideas to fruition, helping to make our world a better, safer place.”