Without Dr. Dodgen’s efforts, Washington State would be missing a distinctive and valuable research asset, the one megawatt research nuclear reactor and supporting equipment contained at the Nuclear Radiation Center.
Born in 1921 in Missouri, Dr. Dodgen received his BS in Chemistry from the University of California in 1943, and his work with spectroscopy of plutonium earned him a position with the Manhattan Project the same year. Impurities in the small amounts of Plutonium available at the time were thought to cause premature detonation of the weapon it was deployed in. Dr. Dodgen’s work helped to greatly improve the purity of the supply of Plutonium available to the Manhattan Project and the war effort.
In 1946 Dr. Dodgen received his PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of California. From 1946 to 1948 Dr Dodgen worked for the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago alongside such great scientists as Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and Robert Oppenheimer. After helping to bring about the peaceful end of World War Two working on the Manhattan Project, Dr. Dodgen was appointed to the Chemistry Department at WSU in 1948. In 1954 Dr. Dodgen was appointed as the Director of the Reactor Project and given the task of designing, building and finding funds for the reactor facility. Major planning for the Nuclear Radiation Center began in 1956, and after securing over $600,000 in funding from Washington State College, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Science Foundation, construction on the reactor and associated facilities began in 1959.
The spring of 1961 saw the birth of the atomic age at WSU, and the reactor was rapidly utilized by researchers in both the University and the Inland Northwest. Among the University departments initially making use of the reactor facility were; biological sciences, the veterinary medicine, agriculture, and the physical sciences. Education was a primary use of the facility, as it still is to this day. Dr. Dodgen oversaw the increase of reactor power ten-fold in 1967, and a particle accelerator was installed and the Nuclear Radiation Center the same year.
1968 saw a turning point in the Chemistry Department at WSU. Dr. Dodgen was appointed to oversee the creation of the Chemical Physics department. Dr. Dodgen was responsible for developing curricula, hiring staff and faculty, procuring equipment through grants and state funding, and obtaining lab and office space. In addition, a PhD program in Chemical Physics was developed under Dr. Dodgen. Today, this area of study is known as the Materials Chemistry Program. In 1977 Dr Dodgen officially stepped aside as the Director of the Nuclear Radiation Center.
Now, more than forty years later, the facility that Dr. Dodgen envisioned and built with tools no more complicated than a slide rule is still one of the most unique and useful research and education tools in the entire state, and the entire nation. The Materials Chemistry program, and to an extent, the WSU Chemistry Department that we know today would not exist without Dr. Dodgen’s efforts.
Research and commercial work make up the bulk of the reactor operation, and the facility still conducts tours for civic and educational groups for training and understanding of nuclear energy. Fewer than thirty research reactors are in operation in the United States, and without Dr. Harold Dodgen's enormous effort and dedication Washington State University and the State of Washington would be lacking a very powerful and exciting research tool. Current research being conducted a the Nuclear Radiation Center includes; Neutron Activation Analysis, Fission Track Analysis, Epithermal Neutron Irradiation, Cancer Research, Isotope production, Neutron Radiography, Environmental Quality Studies, and Trace Element Analysis.
It is because of this man’s life, education and commitment to Washington State, that the WSUNRC exists today.