Three INL researchers receive presidential recognition

August 15, 2019

By Paul Menser

Three INL researchers receive presidential recognition

Three researchers from Idaho National Laboratory – Vivek Agarwal, Krzysztof Gofryk and Christopher Zarzana – were among the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) announced July 2 by the White House.

First given in 1996, the PECASE is bestowed by the United States government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies. Special consideration is given to scientists and engineers who have contributed to the advancement of science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education, and to scientific leadership, public education, and community outreach.

Dr. Christopher Zarzana is an INL research chemist specializing in quantitative mass spectrometry measurements of the nuclear fuel cycle’s trace chemical and isotopic signatures. His research provides insight into the science and engineering solutions necessary for safe, secure and environmentally friendly nuclear energy.


After receiving his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Arizona, he came to INL in 2013 as a postdoctoral researcher, transitioning to full employee status the following year. His current research projects include developing novel sample preparation and ionization methods, and instrumentation for application to isotope-ratio mass spectrometry, development of new nanospray sources for the sensitive analysis of nanovolume samples containing radioisotopes, and investigating the radiation chemistry of nuclear fuel reprocessing materials.

“He continues to expand his research network nationally and internationally through the development of research careers for university interns and postdoctoral researchers,” wrote INL Lab Director Mark Peters in his letter nominating Zarzana for the PECASE. “His efforts to delve into the fundamentals of science with the intent to transition technology advancements into collaborative research programs and deployable solutions is reflective of the values and future potential of our nation’s best candidates for this award.”

Dr. Krzysztof Gofryk is a senior staff physicist in INL’s Nuclear Materials department, where he is studying structural, transport, and thermodynamic properties of nuclear materials under extreme environments. Since joining INL in March 2014, he has designed and established a new laboratory for actinide research and published several high-impact, peer-reviewed publications, including two in Nature Communications. He also was awarded a DOE Early Career Award in 2015.


Gofryk graduated with a doctorate in physics from the Institute of Low Temperature and Structure Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He completed a prestigious fellowship at the Institute for Transuranium Elements in Karlsruhe, Germany, then made significant research contributions as a postdoctoral researcher, first at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and then Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In the scientific community, Gofryk has demonstrated his commitment by mentoring four postdoctoral researchers and seven interns, guiding them to a more detailed understanding of nuclear materials’ electronic and thermodynamic behaviors. Focusing on the advanced fuels uranium dioxide and uranium nitride, they have studied these materials’ exceptionally strong magneto-vibrational coupling and its relationship to thermal properties. These are the properties that need to be accounted for in order to understand their heat behavior, which is so important in nuclear applications.

Dr. Vivek Agarwal is an instrumentation and controls researcher who came to INL in 2011 after completing his doctorate in nuclear engineering at Purdue University. He has a Bachelor of Engineering in electrical engineering from University of Madras, India, and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is a senior research scientist today, working on research projects that include online monitoring of active and passive components in nuclear power plants, intelligent plant configuration management using wireless sensors, risk-informed condition-based predictive maintenance, wireless sensors, communications, and cybersecurity, and integration of prognostic techniques and probabilistic safety assessment for online risk monitoring. A prototype of wireless acoustic telemetry system developed as part of one of his research projects is installed at the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR), and the first-ever acoustic baseline signature of the ATR is being generated, laying the foundation for real-time acoustic-based in-pile monitoring.


Since arriving at INL in 2011, he has mentored 15 interns and three postdoctoral researchers. He has over 35 peer-reviewed publications, two U.S. patent applications, and serves as section editor of the Journal of Pattern Recognition Research, and as an official reviewer for proposals solicited by the U.S. DOE’s Office of Science and Nuclear Energy University Program. His instrumentation and controls work in the nuclear industry will continue to benefit the life extension efforts of the current fleet of light water reactors as well as provide solutions for the challenges of advanced reactor technologies. He received a 2016 Laboratory Director Early Career Achievement Award and the 2019 American Nuclear Society’s Human Factors and Instrumentation and Controls Division’s Ted Quinn Early Career Award.

The agencies participating in the PECASE Awards program include the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs.

The awardees were recognized in Washington, D.C., on July 25.



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Posted August 15, 2019

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