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Profiling Clarice Evone Phelps, An American Nuclear Chemist



Clarice Evone Salone Phelps, a nuclear chemist who was part of the research team responsible for the discovery of a new element, 117, also known as tennessine, was born in 1981 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and raised by a single mother who also raised her three sisters in the Edgehill Housing Projects in Nashville, Tennessee. Phelps, a violinist, developed an early interest in science by watching Beakman’s World, an American educational children’s television program about the wacky scientist Beakman and his assistant, Josiea, who answers viewers’ STEM-related questions. When her mother noticed her interest in the natural sciences, she was given a garage sale microscope set and an encyclopedia-based science kit.

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Chemical Elements Chart (Lady Science)


Phelps gradually began to engage in scientific research. Phelps graduated from Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Nashville, Tennessee, with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 2003. She joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. while there. Phelps enlisted in the United States Navy after graduation and was eventually assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan’s chemistry and radiological controls. She received the Military Excellence Award for her efforts. In 2007, she was honorably discharged from the Navy.

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Phelps began working as a technician at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 2009, and was later promoted to research associate and program manager. In 2013, she was named manager of Oak Ridge’s programs for producing nickel-63 and selenium-75 isotopes.

She discovered a new element, 117, named tennessine, by firing calcium isotopes at berkelium isotopes and creating it in a nuclear reactor. After Nuclear Chemist James Andrew Harris’ discovery of elements 104 and 105 in 1969, Phelps is the first African American woman to help discover an element and the second Black scientist of the modern era.

In 2017 Phelps received the Knoxville (Tennessee) YWCA Tribute to Women Award in the category Technology, Research, and


Clarice Phelps (WBIR)


Innovation. In 2019, Phelps was featured in the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Periodic Table of Younger Chemists “for her contributions to research and public engagement.

Phelps graduated with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2021.

Clarice Evone Salone Phelps has three children with her husband, John E. Phelps. She is a member of the American Chemical Society and is currently enrolled in the nuclear engineering program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree. She also manages the industrial use of isotopes for Oak Ridge’s Isotope & Fuel Cycle Technology Division and serves on its Educational Outreach Committee for Knox County Schools.



Written by How Africa News

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