Clarice Phelps

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Clarice E. Phelps
Clarice Phelps ORNL headshot.jpg
Clarice Evone Salone
EducationTennessee State University (BS, 2003)
US Navy Nuclear Power School
Scientific career
Fieldstransuranic elements
nuclear chemistry
nuclear engineering
nuclear power
nuclear reactors
InstitutionsOak Ridge National Laboratory
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
UnitUSS Ronald Reagan
Navy Nuclear Power Program

Clarice "Claire"[1] Evone Phelps (née Salone)[2] is a nuclear chemist who was part of a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) that collaborated with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research to discover tennessine (element 117). She is the first African-American woman to be involved with the discovery of a chemical element.[3][4][5] Formerly in the US Navy Nuclear Power Program, now at ORNL, Phelps works as a project manager for industrial use isotopes and as a researcher investigating the processing of radioactive transuranic elements such as plutonium-238 used to fuel NASA's deep space exploration missions, and californium-252 used to treat certain cancers.

Early life and education[edit]

Raised in Tennessee,[1] Phelps‘s interest in chemistry began during her childhood when she was given a microscope and encyclopedia-based science kit by her mother. Her interest was further nurtured by her secondary school science teachers.[6] She is an alumna of the Tennessee Aquatic Project and Development Group, a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth.[7] Phelps earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Tennessee State University in 2003.[6]

US Navy[edit]

They needed to see somebody like me sitting in the same spaces where they were at, and excelling in that same space.

— Phelps, 2019, on why she became a nuclear chemist[1]:4:38

Phelps struggled academically in college;[1]:3:14 unable to find employment after graduating, she joined the United States Navy.[1]:11:52 Phelps enrolled in the Navy's Nuclear Power School, which she credits with teaching her "how to study".[1]:3:22 Phelps studied nuclear power, reactor theory, and thermodynamics,[6] and graduated in the top 10% of her class of 300–400 students.[1]:3:49 Phelps told an interviewer in 2019 that she pursued nuclear chemistry in part because of the lack of black women in the field.[1]:4:20

Phelps served as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Navy Nuclear Power Program.[7][8][9] She spent four and a half years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan,[10] operating the nuclear reactor and steam generator chemistry controls, and maintaining the water in the reactor. She was deployed twice,[1]:2:14 and was the only black woman in her division on the ship.[1]:4:25

Oak Ridge National Laboratory[edit]

After the Navy, Phelps worked at chemical instrument company Cole-Parmer in Chicago, Illinois, but a year later, not liking the cold Chicago climate, she returned to Tennessee.[1]:2:30 In June 2009, Phelps joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory.[2] She started as a technician and was later promoted to research associate and program manager.[1]:2:40 Phelps works in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate as the project manager for the nickel-63 and selenium-75 industrial isotope programs. As a member of Oak Ridge's Nuclear Materials Processing Group, she is part of the research and development staff, working with "super heavy" transuranic isotopes that are produced mainly by nuclear transmutation. She is also a member of the Medical, Industrial and Research Isotopes Group, where she researches elements such as actinium, lanthanum, europium, and samarium.[6][11]

Phelps was involved in the discovery of the second-heaviest known element, tennessine (element 117).[5][12] She was part of a three-month process to purify 22 mg of berkelium-249, which was shipped to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research and combined with calcium-48 in a fusion reaction to create tennessine.[5][6][13] The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry recognized the Oak Ridge technicians, a group which includes Phelps, as co-discoverers of tennessine.[5] She is the first African-American woman to be involved with the discovery of a chemical element.[3][4][5] Phelps continues to contribute to other important research efforts,[6] including spectroscopic analysis and spectrophotometric valence state studies of plutonium-238 and neptunium-237 and 238 for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).[14] Phelps has also studied electrodeposition with californium-252 for the Californium Rare Isotope Breeder Upgrade project.[6]

Phelps is a member of the American Chemical Society.[6]

STEM outreach[edit]

Phelps is involved in several outreach projects to increase youth participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).[6] She serves on ORNL's Educational Outreach Committee as its diversity chair for Knox County Schools.[8] She has done outreach through the ASCEND program of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority's graduate chapter, establishing a program to teach robotics, drones, circuitry, and coding to inner city high school students in Knoxville.[6][8] Phelps is also the Vice President of the board of Youth Outreach in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (YO-STEM).[10]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2017, Phelps won the YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women Award in the Technology, Research, and Innovation category. This award recognizes "local women who lead their fields in technology and excel in community service".[15]

In 2019, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) featured Phelps in the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists "for her outstanding commitment to research and public engagement, as well as being an important advocate for diversity."[3][4][16][17] Oak Ridge Today noted that Phelps was one of just two Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers to appear on the table. Phelps has been associated on the IUPAC periodic table with the element einsteinium but was also credited for the discovery of tennessine together with her colleague, the post-doctoral researcher Nathan Brewer. Their inclusion follows a competition by the IUPAC and the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN).[18][19]

Wikipedia article[edit]

Phelps' contribution to the discovery of element 117 became the subject of controversy when her biographical entry was removed from the English Wikipedia after discussion.[20][21][22][23] The article was created by British physicist and Wikipedia editor Jess Wade[24] on 31 August 2018 before being deleted on 11 February 2019; Wade recreated it on 3 April 2019, before it was again deleted and "salted" (protected from creation) by the same administrator who had initially deleted; it was later restored by another administrator on 29 April 2019, before being moved to draftspace three hours later.[23][non-primary source needed]

In describing the reasoning for the deletion, Chemistry World in 2019 stated:[25]

In Phelps’ case, her name didn’t appear in the articles announcing tennessine’s discovery. She wasn’t profiled by mainstream media. Most mentions of her work are on her employer’s website – a source that’s not classed as independent by Wikipedia standards and therefore not admissible when it comes to establishing notability. The community consensus was that her biography had to go.


  • Matoš, Milan; Boll, Rose A.; Phelps, Clarice E.; Torrico, Matthew N.; van Cleve, Shelley M.; Lewis, Benjamin E. (October 1, 2013). Electrodeposition of Californium Using Isobutanol and Aqueous Ammonium Acetate. APS Division of Nuclear Physics Meeting Abstracts. APS Division of Nuclear Physics Meeting Abstracts. 2013. pp. –009. Bibcode:2013APS..DNP.CJ009M.
  • Van Cleve, S.M.; Boll, R.A.; Phelps, C.E.; Ezold, J.G. (May 2012). Recovery and Purification of Berkelium-249 for SHE Research. Poster Presentation for 36th Actinide Separations Conference, Chattanooga, TN.
  • Torrico, M.N.; Boll, R.A.; Matos, M.; Phelps, C.E. (June 2013). Electrodeposition of Actinide Compounds from Aqueous Ammonium Acetate Matrix. Presentation for the 245th American Chemical Society National Meeting, New Orleans, LA.
  • Warburton, Jamie L.; Phelps, Clarice E.; Benker, Dennis; Patton, Bradley D.; Wham, Robert M. (January 1, 2013). UV-Visible Spectroscopic Process Monitor for Hot Cell Mixer-settler Separations at ORNL's Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). OSTI 1095723.[26]
  • McFarlane, Joanna; Delmau, Laetitia Helene; DePaoli, David W.; Mattus, Catherine H.; Phelps, Clarice E.; Roach, Benjamin D. (July 1, 2015). Hydroxylamine Nitrate Decomposition under Non-radiological Conditions. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). OSTI 1195814.
  • Patton, Bradley D.; Robinson, Sharon M.; Benker, Dennis; Phelps, Clarice E. (January 1, 2016). Lessons Learned from Processing Mark-18A Targets at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). OSTI 1279410.
  • Phelps, C.; Delmau, L.; Boll, R.; Hindman, C. (August 2016). Investigations Using LN, LN2 and LN3 resins for Separation of Actinium from Lanthanuum. Presentation for the 252nd American Chemical Society National Meeting, Philadelphis, PA.
  • Hylton, Tom D.; Benker, Dennis E.; Phelps, Clarice E.; Ezold, Julie G.; Phillips, Kayla M. (January 2019). Dissolution of Light Curium Oxide with a Catalyzed Electrolytic Process (PDF). Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. doi:10.2172/1494014. OSTI 1494014.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Qualls, Marquita M. (December 11, 2019). "SC97: Clarice Phelps, Nuclear Researcher and STEM Advocate". STEMulating Conversations with Dr. Q (Podcast). Apple Podcasts. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "New staff members". Oak Ridge National Laboratory Reporter. June 2009. Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved May 14, 2019. Clarice Evone Salone, Nonreactor Nuclear Facilities
  3. ^ a b c "Periodic Table of Younger Chemists". International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. 2019. She is the first African-American women [sic] to be involved with the discovery of an element, tennessine (Element 117).
  4. ^ a b c "Two ORNL researchers featured on 'Periodic Table of Younger Chemists'". The Oak Ridger. July 29, 2019. Retrieved January 30, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Jarvis, Claire (September 30, 2019). "The overlooked element makers". Physics Today. doi:10.1063/PT.6.4.20190930a.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Simoneau, Sean (December 17, 2018). "Clarice Phelps: Dedicated service to science and community". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Archived from the original on February 5, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Tennessee Aquatic Project and Development Group" (PDF). Tennessee Aquatic Project. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 1, 2015. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "YWCA Tribute to Women Finalists and Special Award Winners". Knoxville News Sentinel. July 30, 2017. Archived from the original on September 8, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  9. ^ "Clarice Phelps". December 6, 2019. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Board of Directors". YO-STEM. Archived from the original on April 4, 2019. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  11. ^ "Clarice E Phelps". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Archived from the original on September 1, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  12. ^ Zaringhalam, Maryam; Wade, Jess (April 12, 2019). "It matters who we champion in science". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2019. Phelps purified the berkelium-249 that was used in the discovery and identification of Tennessine (element 117), named after the location of the lab where she works.
  13. ^ REDC final approval. ORNL Creative Media. March 13, 2018. Event occurs at 2:55. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  14. ^ DePaoli, David W.; Benker, Dennis; Delmau, Laetitia Helene; Sherman, Steven R.; Collins, Emory D.; Wham, Robert M. (October 6, 2017). Status Summary of Chemical Processing Development in Plutonium-238 Supply Program (Report). Oak Ridge National Laboratory. p. xi. OSTI 1430620.
  15. ^ "Phelps Wins YWCA Tribute to Women". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Archived from the original on September 1, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  16. ^ "10 more younger chemists added on the IUPAC100 Periodic Table". IUPAC. June 3, 2019. Archived from the original on June 4, 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  17. ^ Hays, Gabrielle (August 7, 2019). "ORNL scientist recognized globally for research and commitment to diversity". WBIR-TV. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  18. ^ "ORNL engineer the first African American woman involved in discovery of an element". Oak Ridge Today. July 23, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  19. ^ Ellis, Jason K. "Phelps receives international honor for research, outreach". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  20. ^ Jarvis, Claire (April 25, 2019). "Opinion: What a Deleted Profile Tells Us About Wikipedia's Diversity Problem". Undark Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Sadeque, Samira (April 29, 2019). "Wikipedia Just Won't Let This Black Female Scientist's Page Stay". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on April 30, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Campos Seijo, Bibiana (May 5, 2019). "Honoring the periodic table with pub trivia and Peeps". Chemical & Engineering News. 97 (18). Archived from the original on May 8, 2019. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  23. ^ a b "All public logs: Clarice Phelps". English Wikipedia. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  24. ^
  25. ^ Krämer, Katrina (July 3, 2019). "Female scientists' pages keep disappearing from Wikipedia – what's going on?". Chemistry World. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  26. ^ 54th Annual meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM 2013): Atlanta [i.e. Palm Desert], Georgia [i.e. California], USA, 20 - 24 [i.e. 14 - 18] July 2013. INMM, Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, 54. Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (ed.). Red Hook, NY: Curran. 2013. ISBN 978-1-62993-580-5. Archived from the original on May 13, 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)

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