|The first woman and the first health physicist to be appointed to the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) (Presidential appointment, U.S. Senate
confirmation), Dr. Gail de Planque was a trailblazer for women throughout her
entire career. When she joined the Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and
Safety Laboratory (HSL) as an entry-level physicist, she was told not to expect
much in the way of opportunities for advancement because it was expected that women would eventually
leave for marriage. She did not leave and eventually became the lab’s director. During her tenure at HSL,
she earned her M.S. in physics and her Ph.D. in environmental health sciences. Her master’s thesis was titled
“Radiation Induced Breast Cancer from Mammography”; ironically, she was later a breast cancer survivor.
Dr. de Planque was the recipient of numerous awards for her pioneering role as a woman in science and her contributions to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. One of the most significant was election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) (one of the highest honors in the engineering profession) with the citation “for leadership of the national nuclear programs and contributions to radiation protection devices and standards.” In 2003, she received the Henry DeWolf Smith award for Nuclear Statesmanship from the American Nuclear Society and the Nuclear Energy Institute for her contributions to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. She was the author of over 65 journal articles, proceedings and technical reports contributing to national and international standards in the study of environmental radiation and nuclear facility monitoring. Her areas of expertise included nuclear physics and environmental radiation studies.
While at the U.S. NRC, Dr. de Planque often had a pivotal role in matters relating to equal employment opportunities, flexiplace and flexitime, sexual harassment policy, and management. On personnel matters, she led by example – her staff included the sharing of a position by two part-time employees, both women. After her tenure at the U.S. NRC was complete, Dr. de Planque was sought after nationally and internationally including by the United Nations International Atomic Agency. She served on the boards of TXU Corporation; Landauer, Inc.; British Nuclear Fuels, Inc.; Northeast Utilities; BHP Billiton, plc; BHP Billiton Ltd., and Energy Solutions. She was a fellow and past president of the American Nuclear Society, a member of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, president of the International Nuclear Societies Council, secretary of the International Nuclear Energy Academy, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As Chair of the NAE’s Celebration of Women in Engineering Steering Committee, she led the national effort to change the national dialogue on increasing the number and percentage of women in engineering and implement national and local programs that would create new, wide-reaching efforts to get closer to parity.
Born in New Jersey, Dr. de Planque resided in Potomac, Maryland from 1991 until her death in 2010.
Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2015.
© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2015