Growing up on a dairy farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Steve Zinkle had limited experience with advanced technology concepts. Initially, he had planned to pursue a career as a history teacher until his high school guidance counselor suggested engineering. He enrolled as a nuclear engineering undergraduate at UW-Madison. An introductory materials science course during his junior year piqued his interest.
When he finished his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1980, Zinkle continued his education at UW-Madison, completing a master’s in 1982 and PhD in 1985, both in nuclear engineering. Then, he began a career that juxtaposed nuclear engineering and materials science. While in graduate school, Zinkle performed some of the first materials research experiments worldwide using deuterium-tritium fusion neutrons during summer work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Zinkle has worked in the materials science and technology division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) since 1985, when he joined the lab as a Eugene Wigner Fellow researching radiation effects in materials for proposed fusion energy systems. In 1992, he spent one year at research centers in Denmark, Germany and Russia as a visiting scientist, where his research subsequently broadened to include a variety of materials issues for space reactor and fission reactor systems. In 1999, he was appointed ORNL fusion materials research program manager and later nuclear materials science and technology group leader in 2001. In 2004 he was named an ORNL corporate fellow. Now director of the ORNL materials science and technology division, Zinkle provides technical management for more than 300 staff and affiliated scientists. His current research interests include deformation and fracture mechanisms in structural materials and investigation of radiation effects in ceramics and metallic alloys for fusion and fission energy systems.
Zinkle has written more than 230 peer-reviewed publications and is a fellow of the American Ceramic Society, ASM International, American Nuclear Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His awards include the American Nuclear Society Mishima Award for outstanding R&D on nuclear fuels and materials, the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society Fusion Technology Award, and the U.S. Department of Energy Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.
Zinkle married his wife Teresa in 1990. They have two sons, Austin and Allen, in high school. Zinkle has served as a volunteer basketball coach for several youth teams and enjoys running in his spare time.