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Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State’s Role in Discovering Tennessine

ORNL photo. Gov. Haslam new periodic table

Principal Martin McDonald and students from Oak Ridge High School accepted the first new chart of the periodic table featuring element tennessine and signed by Governor Bill Haslam and ORNL Director Thom Mason. To mark the discovery of tennessine, UT-Battelle is donating a new chart to all public middle and high schools in Tennessee. ORNL photo.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam visited the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory today to congratulate the team involved in the discovery of the element tennessine, named in recognition of the vital contributions of the state of Tennessee to the international search for new superheavy elements.

UT-Battelle, the managing contractor of ORNL, is marking the discovery by providing more than 1,000 public middle schools and high schools in Tennessee with new charts of the periodic table. Tennessine—the official name for element 117—completes the seventh row of the table and the column of elements classified as halogens.

The charts will include the signatures of Haslam and ORNL Director Thom Mason.

“We had two very significant announcements in Tennessee this fall as it relates to science. In October, the Nation’s Report Card announced that Tennessee students are the fastest improving in the nation in science, and in November, Tennessee became only the second state to be recognized in the periodic table of elements,” Haslam said. “Having an element named in our honor is further evidence of the scientific excellence that exists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University and other institutions throughout our state, and by UT-Battelle donating new periodic tables to every middle and high school in Tennessee, students can feel proud of our state’s important role in the scientific community and inspired to play a role in its future.”

Haslam spoke after Yuri Oganessian, the Russian scientist who developed the “hot fusion” method of creating superheavy elements, delivered a Eugene P. Wigner Distinguished Lecture to ORNL staff. Oganessian was joined by Victor Matveev, director of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, where the experiment was performed.

“We appreciate Gov. Haslam’s recognition of the laboratory’s research and support staff who helped add this historic experiment to the long list of Tennessee’s scientific achievements,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “We also welcome Dr. Oganessian and Dr. Matveev to ORNL to mark the culmination of our long partnership to expand the horizons of physics and chemistry.”

The state of Tennessee made several contributions to tennessine’s discovery. For UT, Robert Grzywacz, director of the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Nuclear Physics and Applications and a physics professor at the university, served as the connection to the project. He  helped develop a process to measure the decay of nuclear materials that helped prove the element’s existence.

“We are honored that UT played a role in the discovery of this new element, and we are thrilled that our state and our university will forever enjoy seeing Tennessine on the periodic table,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “The efforts of Dr. Grzywacz and his are to be applauded.”

Vanderbilt University professor Joe Hamilton, a longtime collaborator with ORNL in physics research, advocated for the experiment to discover element 117, which required the radioisotope berkelium-249.

The only source of berkelium-249 is ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and adjoining Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. When a campaign to make the industrially important radioisotope californium-252 began in 2008 under the auspices of the DOE Isotope Program, Hamilton put Oganessian in touch with ORNL Director of Science and Technology Partnerships Jim Roberto. Roberto pulled together a team of scientists and engineers to produce berkelium-249, as a byproduct of the californium production, for the experiment and to collaborate in the international research effort.

After a year-long process, the discovery team had detected six atoms of element 117 at JINR’s atom smasher, which the team that included JINR, ORNL, Vanderbilt and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in early April 2010. Follow-up experiments to confirm the discovery, which included nuclear physicists from the University of Tennessee, have identified 16 more of the “superheavy” atoms. The DOE Isotope Program produced and contributed the additional amounts of Bk-249 to the nuclear physics research community for these follow-on experiments.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry announced its final approval of tennessine as the name for element 117 last November. IUPAC also announced the naming of element 115, which is a decay product of element 117, as moscovium after the Moscow region where JINR is located, and element 118 as oganesson, honoring Oganessian.

Although the superheavy elements at the bottom of the periodic table are extremely short lived, scientist believe an “island of stability” may exist as the atomic numbers of newly discovered elements increase, which could revolutionize physics and chemistry. The discovery of tennessine represents strong evidence of the existence of the island of stability.

“The discovery of tennessine is an example of the potential realized when nations combine their resources and work together in the pursuit of knowledge that could be of tremendous benefit to society,” Roberto said.

The periodic tables to be issued by UT-Battelle to the schools represent an approximately $25,000 corporate gift to public education in Tennessee.

ORNL’s research was supported by DOE’s Office of Science via the DOE Isotope Program. The High Flux Isotope Reactor is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.



Bill Cabage
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Communications
865-574-4399, cabagewh@ornl.gov