IamA science journalist who’s just traveled 36,000 miles to visit every lab that has discovered a new element since 1945....


**My short bio:** I’m a journalist for *Chemistry World* and am currently writing *Superheavy*, a book on how scientists are creating new elements in the lab, for Bloomsbury Sigma.

In the course of my research, I’ve visited every lab in the world that can claim to have discovered a new element, conferences on element discovery, and even sites where atomic bombs have been detonated. This includes Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national labs in California, Oak Ridge national lab in Tennessee, GSI Darmstadt in Germany, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and RIKEN in Japan.

I’ve also met the biggest names in the field, including Yuri Oganessian (after whom element 118 is named), and I’ve asked them about everything from the competition between the USSR and US during the cold war, through to the practicalities of hitting a target smaller than an atom with a beam of ions traveling at 10% the speed of light.

AMA about how you make elements 93-118 or what science labs are like around the world.

**My Proof:** https://twitter.com/ChemistryKit/status/921350892946886661

Edit: Thanks for your questions! I’m going to have to take a break for a short while. I’ll be back to answer more in an hour or so.

Edit 2: OK, back. Let the madness resume.

Edit 3: Hope that answered everything! I’m going to get my dinner now, but I’ll try and do another AMA once the book’s ready. Have a terrific weekend.



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60 Comments

  • Is there any optimism in the research community about finding “islands of stability” higher up in the periodic chart? Or is that considered a dead-end?

  • Left field question for you.

    What is the standard banter at parties/events in your field?

    When chatting with Yuri Oganessian (or similar) in a social setting, what percentage of the conversation is atoms & elements and what percentage is shooting the shit talking about sports or *mayonnaise vs. mustard*?

  • Were there any instances where they weren’t able to successfully recreate the new element after making the claims?

  • What would you say was the greatest site to visit, in your personal opinion?

  • What is the best way to beat an Exodia Deck?

  • Which element do you find to have the most unexpected properties?

  • Chocolate lab or black lab? My grandfather always had golden labs for hunting, but I prefer darker dogs. There’s no particular reason I do, just aesthetics.

    In your travel, which have you found to be better?

  • Hello, my father was a chemist for 30 years and still is really into chemistry news and stuff. Your journey and book sound super interesting and I would love to share it with him, only issue is that he doesn’t read English fluently. Do you know if your book will be published in other languages (French in particular) by any chance?

  • Why?

  • How did you pay for 36,000 miles of travel ?

  • The concept of creating new elements is insane to me and extremely interesting!
    What did the people you met consider to be the hardest or most abstract concept when it came to discovering or creating these new elements? Another question to go along is what is the general process and techniques needed to find these elements?

  • Are you in your element while travelling? And what was your favorite lab that you visited

  • Has ever someone tried to revive dead people? If so, how did he/she tried?

  • What are Your top ten tips for discovering a new element?

  • Why do the Russian team JINR have so much success in creating the synthetic elements? Are they getting the base elements drunk so that the impacting elements have an easier time hitting them?

  • If someone find a new element, can they name it after themselfs?

  • Would you say that different countrieslabs come up with different ways to approach discovering new elements, or do labs follow somewhat standard protocol with few additions here and there?

  • Nice, you were literally just up the street from me here in Darmstadt, Wixhausen.

    How do you feel about the repeated snub of not naming an element Wixhausium? A lot of Germans feel strongly about it as “Wix” is also slang for masturbate.

  • What do you do for fun?

  • Which lab was your favorite and why?

    And where there big differences between the labs? I mean, was there a lab which was huge and had super expensive stuff while there were others that were like a classroom or something?

  • As an element collector, most of us will never have anything above element 92 in our collections (for the most part). Did you come across any cool novelties that one might use in a collection to represent the superheavy elements?

  • Has any work gone into the detection of man-made elements in atmospheres of other planets?

  • Hello, great AMA! Just wondering what is the average stability time for some of the newly discovered elements?

  • 1)What are the chances of discovering a new element that is stable enough for the proton numbers to be registered?

    2)How were the researchers able to identify certain particles as new elements while they have extremely short half lives?

  • What are you having for lunch?

  • Who is the coolest scientist you have met and why?

  • Some strange elements tend to have properties that make them extremely difficult to study. For example, Copernicium has a half-life of only 29 seconds, and Francium would probably explode upon contacting the moisture in the air. How do you guys deal with it?

  • Undergraduate student here. How did you get into academic journalism? I really want to pursue a career as a science researcher and journalist, but was wondering what launched you into the field in the first place?

  • What are the differences in labs across the world ? And also can you name all the countries please ?

  • Which lab do you think was unlikeliest to discover and which one felt like it was inevitable? Why?

  • If you’re a science journalist then can you tell us how important Rick & Morty is to the field of science?

  • Wow! great to see Super Heavy is getting some coverage! Can you share some cherished moments you had when talking to the scientists?

  • Any advice for aspiring journalists/ science journalists? (How do you find stories, how worthwhile is grad school, and how likely am I to be able to find a job in science communication upon graduating college?)

    And how long have you had to research and write the book?

  • Could heavy elements 118 and higher be created during kilonovas like the one that happened earlier this week? I read that elements like gold, platinum and uranium were created during this event. would it even be possible to detect them if they were created?

  • Favorite food?

  • What’s your favorite element and why?

  • Did you go to Cornwall where titanium (manaccanite) was discovered?

  • Is [Bob Lazar](https://youtu.be/oy-T_BsYLhE) right about this?

  • Have you ever been to CERN? I’m going there on a school trip in March and would love to know more about it.

  • Can a highly socially awkward and shy person become a (sports) journalist? Do you have colleagues who are? Tell us about them.

  • What chemical cocktail (if any) would Dr. Jekyll have to drink to turn into Mr. Hyde in real life?

  • Are you excited for the search for element 119 starting in December?

  • How do you feel about elements named after places, like Americium or Germanium? Are there any feelings you or any of the scientists you’ve encountered that have a preference for naming elements?

  • When is Half Life 4 coming out?

  • Do you fully comprehend all the science they talk about? Or would they have to break it down for you?

  • ?A pilgrim of science. That’s kind of poetic. Is there an element you could name that you would say has had the greatest impact on our technological progress over the past century or so?

  • Let’s say you interviewed a scientist w/ poor socials skills, what’s the best way to get them to open up about their work?

  • Are you writing a book on heavy element discovery? You should consider putting a histogram in there of element vs year of discovery. They fall neatly into groups, like ‘known since antiquity,’ ‘nobel gases’
    ‘rare earth chemistry’. The final group is ‘accelerator/reactor production.’

  • What’s the common denominator between all the scientists that discovered elements? I.e. what’s the right way to raise a genius?

  • Counting isotopes, do you see the periodic table as 3 dimensional, rather than 2 dimensional..?

  • What was the smallest or least known lab you came across on your trip?

  • Any comments on falsifiability? It seems that scientific method seems to have gone from hard science to something else.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2015/02/falsifiability/
    (Does Science Need Falsifiability?)

  • I live in California and have infact spent a lot of time in Livermore but have never even visited the labs. Without being armed with more than curiosity what could I see there?

  • How did you become a science journalist?

  • Since 1945? You must be very old.

  • Would you walk 500 more, just to be the man who discovered just one more?

  • What was the best meal you had during your travels?

  • I’m a freshman in college and love chemistry and journalism on equal levels. How did you shape your academics around your career path, if that makes sense? I plan on doing science communication as a career, and am double-majoring in journo and chem. Any advice?

  • I belong in a co-ed chemistry Fraternity and one of my (dead) brothers is Glenn T Seaborg, can you tell me something interesting about element 106 Seaborgium?

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