Scientists recognized in Haslam visit to ORNL


Gov. Bill Haslam visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory to recognize a team of scientists who discovered a new set of super-heavy elements in 2010. The lab was involved in experiments for the discovery of three new elements, a collaborative effort involving scientists from 16 institutions around the world.

“This collaboration shows what can be done when research institutions work together to solve complex scientific problems,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason.

“Tennessine,” the 117th element, was named for contributions by the ORNL, the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University.

ORNL produced and purified source materials and synthesized them to aid Yuri Oganessian of Russia’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in discovering and confirming element 117. Oganessian previously discovered elements 106 to 116 and element 118 using hot and cold fusion methods.

The elements filled in the seventh row of the periodic table except for one blank space reserved for the 117th element and its name. To produce the element, Oganessian needed the radioisotope berkelium-249, a by product of the radioisotope californium- 252. The Oak Ridge National Lab’s High Flux Isotope Reactor was the only reactor capable of producing either radioisotope in large enough quantities to experiment with. So, Oganessian pitched them the idea in 2004.

Oganessian, Vanderbilt Physics Professor Joe Hamilton and ORNL Director or Scientific and Technology Partnerships Jim Roberto began the campaign to create a super-heavy element.

“When you look at the journey of discovery Yuri, Joe and Jim have been on, it almost reads like science fiction,” said Timothy Hallman, associate director of science for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Physics. “It’s truly remarkable on the scale of great discoveries throughout the years.”

It took the team eight months to create the californium-252 isotope. Oak Ridge scientists then raced against time to separate, purify and ship off the berkelium- 249 isotope before its half-life was up. The team packed the dissolved radioisotope into large buckets and sent it to the Research Institute for Advanced Reactors (RIAR) in Dimitrovgrad, Russia, for the hot-fusion experiment.

The package was turned away and sent back across the Atlantic twice, to the researchers’ chagrin. But the shipment made it to the lab with enough time for RIAR scientists to paint the dissolved radioisotope onto a rotating target and begin the hot fusion experiment: They bombarded it with a six trillion calcium- 48 ion beam for 150 days.

The experiment produced six atoms of the new, 117th element, “ununseptium,” and then decayed into super-heavy elements 115, 113, 111, 109, 107 and 105.

Labs across the world performed the same experiment to confirm the element and in 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistryproposed the a new name to honor the scientific contributions of Tennessee institutions. “Tennessine,” abbreviated “Ts,” now hails proudly from the seventh row of the periodic table at the bottom of the halogens column.

“In recent years we have had elements 106 to 118,” said Russia’s JINR Director Victor Matveev. “Surely it is a remarkable day that the 117th space is filled. Of course, science does not stay still.”

Filling in the super-heavy elements brings scientists closer to the shore of what they call “the island of stability,” on which super-heavy elements with great numbers of protons and neutrons have longer half-lives than the unstable super-heavy elements known today.

“We love that the newest element and the only second named for a state is tennessine, and that the very best scientific work that’s happening in the world is happening right here,” said Gov. Haslam.” I feel grateful for the people here at the lab and people throughout this partnership that not only have worked to produce a new element, but have also worked to make certain that the next generation of students can be part of a discovery team working all around the world.”

Tennessee students were named the fastest improving in science by the The National Assessment of Educational Progress last October. To honor the achievement, UT-Battelle, the managing contractor of ORNL announced they would provide updated periodic table charts featuring the new super-heavy elements, including tennessine, to every middle and high school in Tennessee. The combined value of the new periodic tables UT-Battelle will distribute is about $25,000.

Oak Ridge High School AP science students Savanah Ward, William Andress, Alexis Hammond and Tré Jackson attended the event to represent Tennessee students. “It’s an honor and a privilege to do this. We have a lot of these great opportunities to be successful and great teachers to lead us,” said Tré Jackson, a sophomore honors chemistry student.

Because of the school’s location, many high schoolers get a front row seat to scientific developments like the discovery of tennessine. Through a program called “Thesis,” upperclassmen can even work with ORNL scientists to publish scientific papers.

“Seeing a new element created so close to us just means a lot,” Jackson said. “It’s really cool to know that this is named after our state, and we got to hear how it all happened today.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by BRITTANY CROCKER

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