Recently, 1998 graduate of Scotland County High School, Rob (Bobby) Morgan was recognized for his contributions to the discovery of the newest element to be added to the periodic table. Element 117 received the official name Tennessine and was added to the seventh row of the table in November 2016.

The discovery of element 117 was officially announced in April of 2010, but began in early 2008 in a joint effort between researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL) in Oak Ridge Tennessee and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia. To synthesize element 117, researchers bombarded the heavy element Berkelium7249 with a beam of Calcium-48 atoms. During the bombardment some of the calcium and berkelium atoms would combine to form the new element 117.

ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and adjoining Radiochemical Engineering Development Center(REDC), is the only facility in the world capable of producing the Berkelium-249 necessary for the experiment. Morgan was part of a small team of researchers and technicians at REDC who worked on the year-long campaign resulting in the production of 22 milligrams of Berkelium-249, the necessary amount to perform the experiment.

The berkelium target material was then shipped to the JINR in Russia where it would begin the six-month process of calcium bombardment in a particle accelerator. Following this experiment researchers announced they had detected the presence of six atoms of element 117. These findings were later confirmed by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

The proposed name, Tennessine, was approved by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in 2016 to recognize the significant contributions of ORNL Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN), and the University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN).

The discovery of Tennessine is evidence of the existence of the theoretical “island of stability”, where superheavy elements have increasingly stable properties. Discovery of these stable superheavy elements could lead to new technologies in energy, and have a drastic impact on the current view of chemistry and physics.