Division leader at Lawrence Livermore National Lab
Head of team that has created 6 new heavy elements
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
In late 2015 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. Parts of her team’s work has been toward automation of sample preparation and detection in efforts to speed up isotope analysis.
Currently she is the Division Leader of the Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division at Livermore, a role she has filled since 2020. Part of her responsibilities she serves as the Principle Investigator for Heavy Element Research at LLNL and the Group Leader for Radiochemical diagnostics and HED radiochemistry at the National Ignition Facility. Her current research is focused on using inertial confinement fusion facilities for nuclear data measurements, fissions properties, actinide chemistry, heavy element chemistry, and chemical automation.
Shaughnessy was named to the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in response to her work at LLNL and in 2018 was elected a Fellow of the American Chemical Society. Beyond the lab she 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 to encourage more girls to enter science fields.
Written by Angela Goad