Mary Lowe Good

Mary Lowe Good. Photo courtesy UNO Archives, Louisiana and Special Collections Department, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.

Mary Lowe Good. Courtesy UNO Archives, Louisiana and Special Collections Department, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.

As a university professor and an industry leader, Mary Lowe Good (b. 1931) advocated the importance of science and technology for society. These public stands earned her appointments to the National Science Board, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and the Department of Commerce.

Mary Lowe was born in Grapevine, Texas, the child of two teachers. In 1943 her family left Texas for Kirby, Arkansas, where her father was offered a job as school principal. She attended the University of Central Arkansas, at first majoring in home economics but later switching to chemistry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and then continued her chemical education at the University of Arkansas, earning her Ph.D. in 1955. At the University of Arkansas, she also met and married William J. Good, who was a graduate student studying physics. Mary Good then joined the chemistry faculty at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where she became an assistant professor. In 1958 LSU opened a new campus in New Orleans, and both of the Goods were asked to serve on the faculty there. Good spent the next 20 years of her career in New Orleans.

In 1967 she began using a new experimental technique called Mössbauer spectroscopy. Spectroscopy uses the interactions between matter and electromagnetic radiation, such as infrared radiation and visible light, to answer chemical and physical questions. Mössbauer spectroscopy, which uses gamma rays, is particularly useful for figuring out the molecular structure of complicated compounds containing metal ions. Good used the technique to study compounds containing the metallic element ruthenium.

In 1978 she returned to LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge after being appointed the Boyd Professor of Chemistry, the chemistry department’s highest honor. She did not stay there long, though, leaving LSU in 1980 to become vice president and director of research for Universal Oil Products. She remained in industry for 13 years, staying with the same company through several mergers and name changes. She was vice president of technology at Allied-Signal when she left the firm in 1993. Along the way, she pursued other activities, including one year as president of the American Chemical Society.

Good headed for a third career, this time in government. Her involvement with government began in the 1970s, when she served on the National Science Board, first under President Carter and then under President Reagan. Good was the first woman to lead this important group, which directs much of the government’s support for research. In 1991 President George H. W. Bush appointed her to his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. All these were part-time jobs, but in 1993 she went to work in government full-time as the undersecretary for technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Clinton, a position she held for four years. In this role she encouraged government, industry, and universities to work together.

In 1997 Good became the first woman to receive the Priestley Medal, the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society. In 2000 fellow scientists further honored her with the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

After leaving government, Good returned to academia, taking a position at the University of Arkansas, her alma mater. She is also a managing member of the Fund for Arkansas’ Future, an organization that aims to foster high-tech business and industry in Arkansas. In addition to chemistry, she enjoys fly-fishing and Scottish history. She and her husband have two children and several grandchildren.

Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry

Women in Chemistry

Follow the adventures of eight leading women in chemistry and celebrate their life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science. 

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Connect with CHF


Distillations Podcast logo
Listen to the latest episodes of CHF’s award-winning podcast.

Historically Grounded Perspectives

The Center for Contemporary History and Policy explores issues ranging from energy to medicine on CHF's blog, Periodic Tabloid.