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Tennessee in its element
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The second part of Rotary’s two-part tribute to the late Stephen Hawking was presented by Dr. Joseph H. Hamilton, physicist and Vanderbilt professor. Hamilton played a key role in the discovery and synthesis of a series of super-heavy elements, one of which was named Tennessine.
“It is a big honor for our state because it is only the second element named for a state in the Periodic Table,” explained Hamilton. “Californium, Element 98 is named after California, but now we have Tennessine, which is Element 117.”

As fascinating as the science is, it’s the cooperation across international boundaries moving politics and rivalries aside in the pursuit of scientific discovery that is truly amazing. Although the berkelium produced in minute quantities and at great expense at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was twice refused entry into Russia, where the final synthesis of the new element would take place, scientists persisted. “Finally, customs officials were satisfied with the paperwork,” chuckled Hamilton at the ridiculousness of such an issue.

“After the fifth go-around across the ocean, the berkelium was made into a target and was bombarded by known elements with neutrons and alpha particles and we produced six new atoms,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton advises high school students if they make a discovery to get it in print because if they don’t somebody else will. To illustrate his point, he explained the history of the periodic table. Although earlier discoveries were made by scientists such as Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier and John Newlands, the sole credit for its creation goes to Dmitri Mendeleev, who first published it.

Hamilton was the guest speaker during Thursday’s Rotary Club of McMinnville luncheon.