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BY Abu Mubarik, 12:20pm February 14, 2024,

Clarice Phelps is the first Black woman to help discover a periodic table element

Photo credit: WTVF

Clarice Phelps is a Tennessee State University graduate who has a strong passion for science. Her love of science started in chemistry class during her 10th-grade year of high school.

Since then, she has gone on to receive a masters degree in Nuclear and Radiation Engineering from UT Austin after graduating from Tennessee State University. She would join the Navy, where she applied what she learned in chemistry to radioactive materials. Phelps subsequently joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory where she conducted purification work — isolating purified chemicals that were shipped to Germany and Russia and used as target material to produce atomic number 117, known as Tennessine (Ts), according to WTVF. Ts is classified as a halogen, the news site added.

However, it was not until 2016 that Phelps officially received word that Tennessine (Ts) was part of the periodic table. In 2019, she was recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) for helping to discover an element. She had become the first Black woman to help discover a new periodic table element.

“Taking a seat at the periodic table didn’t happen overnight, it was actually a 20-year journey,” she said in a TSU interview.

When Phelps learned that she had made history after being recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), she was surprised and had to do a quick search.

“I had to Google it, and I still was in disbelief. However, I thought about me — as a little girl, desperately looking for someone like me in science who was an inspiration, and it changed my perspective,” she said.

Phelps is currently pursuing her doctorate in Nuclear Engineering and she is optimistic that her discovery will positively impact other Black people within the scientific field.

“It will change the small, yet-growing community of African American scientists and other scientists from marginalized communities,” she said in a statement. “Being able to see something of themselves, to feel the common struggles that I share in this journey, to know the common invisibility of our impact on the scientific community, will be significant.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 14, 2024


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