Just a month ago, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemists formally recognized the creation of four new elements, three of these from the group lead by Dawn Shaughnessy of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab working in conjunction with Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Russia and the Oak Ridge National Lab.
Since middle school Shaughnessy has been interested in science and she made the decision to study chemistry while in high school. Earning her BS and PhD from the University of California, Berkley focusing on nuclear chemistry she joined LLNL in 2000 as a post-doc researcher becoming a staff chemist at the lab two years later. In 2010 she became the group leader of the Experimental Nuclear and Radiochemistry Group in the Chemical Sciences Division and has been making history since. The group has been responsible for six new elements starting with elements 115, Flerovium and 117, Livermorium in honor of the lab and its location in California. The process of creating super-heavy elements begins with smashing atoms with a lighter mass together with heavier mass elements in a particle accelerator in order to fuse these atoms together. These new atoms usually have a very short half-life and decay quickly into other elements that also have to be identified in order to show evidence of the new elements.
Shaughnessy was named to the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in response to her work at LLNL. She also takes the time to encourage girls to explore STEM fields and would like the media to showcase a more realistic image of women scientists to help provide more positive role models.
The process of naming and creating official symbols for the four new super-heavy elements has begun and will include input from teams that created the elements and the general public before being adopted by the IUPAC.
Written by Angela Goad