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A Place at the Table

A collaboration involving UT researchers helped confirm the existence of four new elements, and one is named Tennessine.

September 05, 2016 | Updated: May 01, 2019

Robert Grzywacz, director of the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Joint Institute for Nuclear Physics and Applications and a UT physics professor, helped develop upgraded technology that measures the decay of nuclear materials to one millionth of a second—a game changer for nuclear physics.

UT postdoctoral researchers David Miller and Nathan Brewer worked with Grzywacz to refine the system that detected element 117 and three other super-heavy elements.

Their work was a collaboration with ORNL, Vanderbilt University, and researchers from Russia.

“I don’t know if even Mother Nature made these elements,” Grzywacz says. “Think about that. We’re creating samples of elements that we don’t know if they ever existed anywhere in the universe.”

This is a dramatic example of what ORNL and institutions like UT can accomplish together, and of the opportunities for graduate students available at both.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC)—which validates the existence of newly discovered elements and approves their official names—gave its final approval to the name Tennessine following a year-long process.

Tennessine—it rhymes with green and is abbreviated Ts— is only the second name of an element to honor an American state and the first with Native American roots.

It joins the halogens—including fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, andastatine—on the periodic table.

The other new elements are named Nihonium, Moscovium, and Oganesson.

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