This paper presents a gradient-informed design optimization of nuclear reactor core components based on neutronics objectives with both continuous and discrete materials. The main argument in favor of using gradient-informed design optimization is that it scales well with increasing dimensionality of the design space. First, a challenge problem with 121 free parameters is solved with a gradient-informed method and then with a genetic algorithm. Then, a challenge problem to optimize the flux profile of a simplified assembly with eight axial zones is solved. Both challenge problems are solved using directly calculated derivatives from Tools for Sensitivity and Uncertainty Analysis Methodology Implementation (TSUNAMI) in the SCALE package. This work also demonstrates how a discrete optimization problem—selection of materials for 121 voxels—can be lifted into a continuous problem with mixed materials. In the continuous space, adjoint-based gradients are well-defined, and gradient descent is applicable. Then, a forcing function is introduced that with the selection of an appropriately sized hyperparameter can be used to guide the optimized continuous solution back into a discrete solution. This paper presents an account of the challenges that were faced when applying a gradient-informed optimization algorithm using a Monte Carlo calculation to estimate the gradient information and compares a gradient descent optimization method to a genetic algorithm optimization of the same geometry. Overall, this work demonstrates the potential use of adjoint-based gradient calculations in design optimization of nuclear systems.