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Celebrating Firsts: Clarice Phelps

Natural Genius STEM Solutions presented our final first for the month of July by celebrating Clarice Phelps. Clarice Phelps, an HBCU graduate, is the first African American woman to be recognized for discovering an element on the periodic table!

Nuclear chemist, Clarice Phelps took her seat at the periodic table in 2010, as part of the team that discovered element 117. This element would later be named Tennessine, after the state it was discovered in. Ms. Phelps is an HBCU graduate. In 2003 she graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She fell in love with science at an early age and never gave up on her dream.


Her accomplishment double stamped her a place in history with the discovery of an element and being the first African American woman to do so. After college Clarice Phelps servered our country in the US Navy aboard the USS Ronald Regan. She continues braking barriers in the field of nuclear chemistry, helping to make more room at the table for African American women in STEM. During a 2019 interview, Ms. Phelps was asked why she chose a career in nuclear chemistry. Her response, “They needed to see somebody like me sitting in the same spaces that they were at, and excelling in that same space.”


Clarice Phelps is currently investigating heavy metal isotopes and nuclear materials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN. She is a published researcher. She has a similar background to many black and brown girls with aspirations in STEM. Ms. Phelps is dedicated to science, and her community, and wishes to see other African American women have their seat at the table. She is an excellent rolemodel for girls hoping for careers in STEM.


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