Clarice Phelps

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Clarice Evone Phelps (née Salone) is a nuclear chemist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory .[1] She is notable for being part of the team that discovered element 117, tennessine, becoming the first African-American woman to help discover a chemical element.[1] [6]

She is formerly a United States Navy Officer in the Navy Nuclear Power Program.[5]

Early Life & Education

Phelps‘s interest in science began as a child when her mother gave her a microscope set and encyclopedia -based science kit.[7]

Phelps earned her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Tennessee State University in 2003. In 2014, Phelps attended University of Tennessee with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. She subsequently attended University of Texas at Austin and earned a Master's degree in their Nuclear Radiation and Engineering Program.[4][5]


U.S. Navy

In 2004, Phelps joined the United States Navy working as an engineering lab technician.[5]

Oak Ridge National Academy

Youtube Video
50 years of excellence at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center

At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Phelps works as a program manager for the Ni-63 and Se-75 industrial use isotopes. As a researcher studying the processing of radioactive "super heavy" transuranium elements, such as Plutonium-238 used to fuel NASA's deep space exploration missions, and californium-252 used to treat certain types of cancer.[1]

She is also a member of the R&D staff at Oak Ridge's Nuclear Materials Processing Group. While there, she gained experience in the processing, analyzing, recovery, and purification of transuranic isotopes.

Clarice is currently working on research efforts in the area of actinide and lanthanide separations for medical use isotopes.[1]

She has previously contributed to several research efforts to include the purification of the Berkelium-249. The isotope was used to help discover Z=117, spectroscopic analysis of Plutonium-238 / Neptunium-237 and their valance states for the Pu-238/NASA project, and electrodeposition work with Cf-252 for the CARIBU (Californium Rare Isotope Breeder Upgrade) Project.[1]

Awards & Accomplishments

Clarice Phelps was part of the team that discovered tennessine (element 117), making her the first African-American woman to help discover a chemical element.[1] [6]

She is a member of the American Chemical Society as well as as the Educational Outreach Committee for the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate.[2] She is also an alumna of the Tennessee Aquatic Project (TAP), a nonprofit youth organization for at-risk youth.[3]


  • Lessons Learned from Processing Mark-18a Targets at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Uv-visible Spectroscopic Process Monitor for Hot Cell Mixer-settler Separations at Ornl’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center
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