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Garnet & Gold Gazette

Garnet & Gold Gazette

All Aboard Brunswick News Station - News Site of BHS

Garnet & Gold Gazette

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First African-American Scientist Discovers An Element

Clarice Phelps Shows Up For People Of Color In Science
Claiming A Seat At The Periodic Table by Clarice Phelps on TEDxNashvilleWomen

Clarice Phelps is an African-American scientist working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Though Phelps is not just any scientist, she was the first African-American woman to be involved with the discovery of an element. 

Raised in Tennessee, Clarice attended Tennessee State University completing a bachelor’s degree in science. Her love for chemistry began at a very young age and only continued to grow. 

After struggling in college Clarice was troubled about finding a job after graduation, she decided the best career path was joining the United States Navy eventually to enroll in the Navy’s Nuclear Power School.

The second heaviest metal, Tennessine. Image created in Canva by Ava Stiglicz. (Ava Stiglicz)

She graduated from the Nuclear Power School in the top 10% of her class moving on to serve as a non-commissioned officer. After serving four years operating the nuclear reactor and steam generator chemistry controls aboard the USS Ronald Regan Aircraft, Clarice joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This job was soon to change her life.

Phelps became a member of Oak Ridge’s Nuclear Materials Processing Group specifically studying “super heavy” metals.

As a part of this group Clarice Phelps was involved in the discovery of the second heaviest element known to man, element 117, tennessine. After a long process of purifying 22 mg of berkelium and combining them with calcium, this team was able to create a new element. 

Clarice Phelps, now, holds the title of First African-American woman to discover an element. Obviously thrilled with such honor Phelps was met with great disappointment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory Gala when her name was left off the recognition list.

Clarice was able to completely turn her life around, she proved that being less fortunate or earning poor grades doesn’t define you.

“I didn’t have the right grades, I didn’t have the right clothes, I just didn’t feel like I had anything right.” Clarice Phelps

The officials of the laboratory claimed to have left her name out by “mistake” though Phelps claims to have fought for months to get her name on that plaque. 

Phelps now works on outreach projects to increase youth participation in fields of science serving as Vice President of the board of Youth Outreach in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (Stem). She also received the 2017 Youth Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) Tribute to Women Award in Technology, Research, and Innovation.

On December 6, 2019, TEDxNashvilleWomen, Clarice Phelps presented the TedTalk “How I Claimed My Seat On The Periodic Table” sharing her story as the first African-American woman to discover an element, linked above. 

Clarice Phelps, the first African-American woman to discover an element. Oak Ridge National Laboratory by Clarice E. Phelps is licensed under CC-BY-2.0 (WikiMedia Commons)

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About the Contributor
Ava Stiglicz
Ava Stiglicz, Editor-in-Chief
Ava Stiglicz is a senior at Brunswick High School and is editor-in-chief of the Garnet & Gold Gazette. Ava has taken both Journalism 1, 2, 3, and is vice president of the Journalism Club. Along with being the editor-in-chief, Ava is also the social media manager of the G&G Instagram: @bhsgazette. Outside of journalism, Ava is a competitive dancer and is a member of Brunswick’s Pom and Dance Team. As part of the original Garnet & Gold staff, she is proud of how much it has grown. Ava has always loved writing and hopes to pursue a career involving journalism.  
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