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.

Comments: 470 • Responses: 71  • Date: 

Frptwenty640 karma

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?

mrcchapman522 karma

Yeah, there is. There's a lot of work currently going on to try and find the island around neutron number 184, so that's work with flerovium (although the problem is we can't get the neutron count up). The other possible islands beyond that, say the 120 region, are theoretical at the moment, so we need to get the next few elements before we know.

Frptwenty162 karma

What properties would be predicted for elements around that neutron number?

mrcchapman338 karma

It's not so much the properties of the element, but properties of the isotope of that element. You'd get much longer lived isotopes, so you could have an element that lasts years rather than seconds.

In terms of the properties of flerovium - that's something that nobody's really sure about at the moment. It looks pretty unreactive, but at this point in the periodic table you start getting huge relativistic effects. The most interesting upshot of that theorised so far is with element 118 - which might not have electron shells!

Oax_Mike344 karma

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?

mrcchapman407 karma

Probably 60% old friends seeing each other, 40% discussing who's doing what/interesting ideas/how work is going. It depends how long ago it was that they caught up with each other.

As the community is relatively small, there's a lot of business chat and deal making. In the cold war, the US/Russian teams were competing and not working together; today it's just not possible to do the research any other way.

That said, if it's a conference or something everyone's looking to unwind a little. Nuclear physicists discussing going to an escape room is great. Also scientists LOVE to talk about food.

mrcchapman236 karma

Also if you ever meet Dawn Shaughnessy (who has helped discover five elements), ask her about Star Wars. Massive fan.

Ivan500039 karma

so what is it, mayonnaise or mustard?

mrcchapman54 karma

My general recollection is that Russian food had a lot of mayo, so I'm going to go with that one.

JBellanger158 karma

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

mrcchapman256 karma

Oh, that's really hard! I loved them all for different reasons. RIKEN was amazing because the whole city is obsessed with discovering an element - there's bronze plaques of the periodic table leading to the lab. GSI was great too, because it's got a LINAC - the accelerator they use is about 100m long and it's awesome to walk around it.

I'd probably say Oak Ridge, though. It's set in the rolling Tennessee valleys, so it's beautiful, and the different labs are all incredible. I got to go to both the High Flux Isotope Reactor and its hot cells (radioactive cells where they isolate the elements from the reactor), and also visit the X-10 reactor: the world's first nuclear reactor. Standing in the place where history was made was a huge thrill.

gimpbully59 karma

ORNL bonus points for radioactive frogs

bigmonkey101016 karma

Isn't X-10 the world's second nuclear reactor? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-10_Graphite_Reactor

The X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, formerly known as the Clinton Pile and X-10 Pile, was the world's second artificial nuclear reactor (after Enrico Fermi's Chicago Pile-1), and the first designed and built for continuous operation. It was built during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project.

mrcchapman23 karma

The Chicago pile was never permanent, it was basically, well, a pile. so that's why I said X-10 was first.

But technically yes, Fermi got there first.

SVcross153 karma

What is the best way to beat an Exodia Deck?

mrcchapman295 karma

Black Lotus.

bmullan104 karma

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

mrcchapman190 karma

A book advance. :)

mattreyu87 karma

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

mrcchapman141 karma

Loads. There are some claims that have never been substantiated, for example the Israeli scientist Amnon Marinov claimed to discover element 112 in 1971 while working at CERN. His claim has never been endorsed. Element 102, Nobelium, was named by a Swedish team who claimed to have discovered the element (they hadn't).

Perhaps the most infamous example is Victor Ninov, who is alleged to have fabricated evidence to claim he had discovered element 118 in the late 90s at Berkeley.

Nukumanu84 karma

Why?

mrcchapman184 karma

I take a hands-on approach to research. Sure, I could read the theoretical papers, but it doesn't tell you the vibe of the place, or the behind-the-scenes stories, or what a nuclear reactor smells like.

The only way I could write a book that told the whole story, in a fair way, was to be there, speak with the people that did it, and see it with my own eyes.

It's the most amazing adventure I've had in my life.

LeisRatio60 karma

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

mrcchapman137 karma

Oganesson is really strange. It might not have any electron shells, and it's probably a solid at room temperature - which is mad considering it's in the noble gases!

LeePen2832 karma

Really apologise to ask you such a silly question, but how does this have no electron shells? Amazing AMA btw!

mrcchapman75 karma

As someone writing for a chemistry mag, I know this is weird. Have a look at this link.

jp_books55 karma

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?

mrcchapman123 karma

They're all good dogs, brooks.

Jujugg50 karma

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?

mrcchapman38 karma

I hope so! It's certainly going to be available worldwide.

drellby_primpton41 karma

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

mrcchapman193 karma

1) Become either a nuclear physicist or a radiochemist

2) Get an accelerator that can shoot ions at 10% the speed of light. A cyclotron powered by a 2000 ton magnet will do

3) Sweet talk a government to let you play with highly radioactive substances that would kill you unless you're behind a few feet of concrete

4) Get equipment that can handle cross sections of pico-barns (10-12 of 10-28 metres squared)

5) Hire theoreticians and world class experimentalists that can run the equipment 24/7 for months

6) Find someone who is willing to fund your search for months, realising you'll use up enough electricity to power a small town (the Emperor of Japan is taken, but he would have been a good choice)

7) Convince one of the only two labs in the world who have the capability to create the targets you need (one is owned by the Russian military, the other the US Department of Energy, so good luck with that)

8) Fire ions at your rotating target until you achieve nuclear fusion

9) Do it at least 3 times so you can prove you've done it to the international community, then pick a name they'll let you have

10) Profit.

daveime41 karma

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?

mrcchapman59 karma

Well, JINR does produce its own brand of vodka (I have a bottle)...

irlyheartasians33 karma

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?

mrcchapman113 karma

The big problem is that you have to shoot your projectile into a target with enough energy to overcome the natural repulsion of the nucleus (otherwise it bounces off), but not enough energy for it to undergo nuclear fission (which breaks it apart). That means you have to be really creative - it's not just about picking two elements whose numbers add up to what you want. We've got pretty good ideas how to get to elements 119 and 120. After that... nobody really knows. We had a really amazing projectile (Calcium-48, a very neutron-rich isotope), but we had to stop using it as we can't produce enough of the target materials!

The other challenge is actually detecting what you've done. Again, incredibly hard, especially as these elements aren't around very long. Today we're using machines so sensitive that, for example, if you used it to weigh a 747 airplane, you could tell if you left a penny on one of the seats.

I liken it to shooting at a needle in a haystack, the bullet hitting the needle and fusing into something new, and then catching that bullet-needle as it flies out before it hits the ground.

KJ6BWB13 karma

I went looking for more information on Calcium-48 and found https://www.sciencealert.com/the-calcium-52-isotope-might-have-just-lost-its-magic-status which says that Calcium-52 was momentarily thought to also be a magic-number nucleus, but then was found to probably not be as its nucleus-radius is larger than theory predicted. Has theory caught up yet for why this is so?

mrcchapman12 karma

Not sure, to be honest. I know that we're not really looking at Ca beams, even for island of stability. I'll ask and find out, though.

ruben07230 karma

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

mrcchapman47 karma

I love visiting new places. The only downside is that I'm 6'5" so flying is a pain. Usually worth it once I get there, though (Japan was a blast).

My favourite lab was Oak Ridge. They know how to show you a great time in Tennessee, and to be at the birthplace of the atomic bomb was astonishing. Later on I also visited the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, so stood where the first atom bomb went off. That was pretty special, too.

KJ6BWB18 karma

Later on I also visited the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, so stood where the first atom bomb went off. That was pretty special, too.

I'm sorry, how much cancer do you have now?

mrcchapman35 karma

It's totally safe, dude. You get a slightly higher dose than normal, but thousands visit there every year. It's only open on 2 days as it's an active missile range, but you can stand on the exact spot the bomb went off. It's pretty awesome.

Mortadelocabron19 karma

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

mrcchapman43 karma

CPR and/or necromancy.

mongomoo18 karma

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

mrcchapman39 karma

Yes. The IUPAC rules say you can name an element after:

1) A place

2) A mythical creature

3) A property of the element

4) A mineral

5) A scientist

To be honest, IUPAC would probably reject the name unless you'd done something really noteworthy. Only two scientists directly involved in element discovery have had elements named after them: Glenn Seaborg (seaborgium, 106) and Yuri Oganessian (oganesson, 118).

Sort of. Gallium is a bit of an odd one, and Fermi got his Nobel for element discovery, although he isn't credited with discovering one.

gimpbully19 karma

Check out the list of elements discovered by the UC Berkeley Rad Lab or Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Wonderfully self-referencing.

Things like Californium and Lawrencium.

mrcchapman29 karma

The New Yorker magazine actually complained that they didn't name the elements Universium Ofium Berkelium Californium.

Also it's not named after the labs, but the towns. Lawrencium was after Ernest Lawrence.

nbduckman15 karma

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?

mrcchapman33 karma

I have lapel pins for 116 and 117, a 114/116 discovery medal, a 112-branded LED cube, and some element-branded pens.

Also I've got a periodic table signed by everyone I spoke with, including Yuri Oganessian, which is unique (nobody else has someone from every lab, including the lead discoverers of 107+). I'm planning to auction that for a children's charity.

VELL115 karma

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

mrcchapman25 karma

The basic principle is the same, but there are differences depending on which beams/targets to use, and also things like how you detect the elements (setting up separators and magnets etc).

The big difference was really in the 1970s/80s. GSI discovered their elements through the 'cold fusion' technique, which used heavier beams than ever before. But this gives you a really small cross section so can't be used anymore.

The current race is really between Japan and Russia, and they are using different beams and targets and pretty different equipment.

unklepeter51215 karma

What do you do for fun?

mrcchapman48 karma

I play a loooooot of computer games.

Currently blasting my way through Bolivia in Ghost Recon: Wildlands. It's...eh, it's OK. After that I'll probably revisit Witcher 3 (favourite game) or Fallout: New Vegas with some graphics mods.

mrcchapman37 karma

Also - love board games. I'm a total geek.

I basically watch a lot of Wil Wheaton's YouTube and go 'hmm, that sounds fun'. Currently itching to try out Betrayal at House on the Hill. Watched that yesterday and looks super-fun.

lordcirth6 karma

Do you like tactics/strategy games like XCOM? Or tabletop RPGs like DnD?

mrcchapman12 karma

Yeah, one of my childhood favourites was UFO: Enemy Unknown and I love the new XCOM. Haven't got Chosen expansion for 2 yet; waiting until there's a Longwar mod.

falderalderal14 karma

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?

mrcchapman19 karma

Some labs have funding. Others don't. So I went from somewhere like Oak Ridge, which has an operating budget of billions, to somewhere like JINR, which has some labs (JINR has several different labs, all looking at different things) with buildings abandoned and boarded up for decades because they were less successful.

Funding is the name of the game, here. Funding and beam time.

PM_Me_Yourbutts14 karma

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.

mrcchapman21 karma

I passed through Wixhausen on Wednesday. It's not very large, so I can understand why they went for Hesse and Darmstadt. Some great pizza, though.

And I wasn't aware of the slang... that's a bit awkward. I do know that the Americans used to propose rude slang for some of the elements as a joke - and even picked Pu for plutonium because of 'obvious reasons', which I take to mean it says 'poo'. So it wouldn't be totally random.

Dexamemi13 karma

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

mrcchapman29 karma

Not too much in terms of exoplanets etc, but there is work trying to determine if superheavy elements (which are the man-made ones) exist in nature. One way to do that is to look at olivine crystals in meteorites - if your meteorite has been floating around space for a billion or so years, you can look at what smashed into it a long time ago by the traces left in the olivine.

retrogam3rs13 karma

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

mrcchapman30 karma

The heaviest, Og, is about 7 ms. Others are a few seconds, until you get to the actinides (103 and lower), where you start getting hours, days etc.

Edit: I am a fool and out by a thousand. I mean 7 milliseconds. Corrected.

GhostlyDust12 karma

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?

mrcchapman18 karma

1) For 119 and 120, pretty good. We have a good way to get to them, so I expect them to be discovered in the next five years.

2) There's a few ways. You can detect fission, you can detect radioactive decay, you can do mass measurements. The sensitivity of the detectors is astonishing.

8urfiat12 karma

What are you having for lunch?

mrcchapman35 karma

I had fish and chips (I'm in the UK). Mushy peas on the side.

Jrb1x11 karma

What's your favorite element and why?

mrcchapman29 karma

Before this, it used to be boron. Boron is weird.

Now, I'd probably say oganesson. It's really weird to personally know someone who has an element named after them on the periodic table (indeed, the only person alive with an element named after them). Yuri is also just a wonderful guy - really friendly and very generous with his time.

This is my first feature on him.

KJ6BWB3 karma

How generous is he with his vodka?

mrcchapman8 karma

Very. We had a good night, and they gave me a bottle to take home.

mostbasic10 karma

Who is the coolest scientist you have met and why?

mrcchapman17 karma

I had a BBQ and a beer with George Smoot. He was really funny - told me a lot about working on the Big Bang Theory and winning Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. That was a pretty chill evening.

Antartix10 karma

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?

mrcchapman11 karma

Got bored, wrote an article for my trade mag. They gave me money. I liked money.

Seriously, the best way to get into it is to start writing. Make a blog, get on social media. Start engaging with other science communicators (there are loads of great ones out there). It spirals from there.

newsensequeen10 karma

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?

mrcchapman9 karma

With timing, the answer is 'very quickly'. Equipment is set up as close to the target as possible, down the beamline, so you extract the new atom and it goes straight into your experiment. You can do basic experiments (like running it along a temperature gradient, seeing if it forms compounds with things).

Also the more you produce, the more you can experiment on. Known decay chains mean that you can predict when an element will decay (alpha radiation, so losing a helium), meaning you can plan accordingly. 114 becomes 112 etc. That also gives you options.

theonlymexicanman9 karma

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

mrcchapman20 karma

They brought back that damn sauce, didn't they?

kbouser9 karma

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

mrcchapman21 karma

Inevitable is hard to say, but the best chance is between RIKEN in Japan and JINR in Russia. The Japanese team starts in a month, the Russians a bit later, but the Russian approach might have the better chance. The Japanese team won't stop until they discover a new element though, so I wouldn't rule them out!

jumpingmario8 karma

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

mrcchapman17 karma

Some of the stories they have are crazy. Transporting giant magnets through war zones, being bugged by the KGB, trying to ship this highly radioactive material via commercial airliners and it ending up going back and forth over the Atlantic several times.

I think it's the small stuff, though. Once I was going out of a building in Berkeley, and a tour guide was talking about Glenn Seaborg (one of the most famous element creators), and was saying in this wonderful Californian accent 'So, like, this guy Seaborg? His name is an anagram of "Go bears!"'. It's moments like that you can't script - why you need to go and visit people and see the world.

And I guess sports are a big deal at UCB. :D

srikarjam8 karma

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

mrcchapman25 karma

Sure! US, Japan, Germany and Russia are the main four. I've also been talking to labs in Switzerland, Poland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The labs are all very reflective of their countries. The US are very laid back, the German lab is really hard to find but very cool (they've modernised the new building with glass sides); the Japanese lab is very close to Wako City, so it's got an electric vibe, although it was ridiculously hot when I was there. The Russian lab is cold, and very much as you'd expect for a lab that was built during the 1950s.

srikarjam7 karma

Was it easy to get permission for entry into all the labs ?

mrcchapman17 karma

Some were easier than others. Some I just asked, a few I had to submit all kinds of details beforehand to do security. And of course international visas for journalism, which can take a bit of paperwork.

zryan35647 karma

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

mrcchapman10 karma

Russell Crowe's salty accented tears.

BigKnight917 karma

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?

mrcchapman7 karma

Yeah, that was really cool as I was at GSI the day after the event (and of course we've just had the Nobel prizes for gravitational waves).

Not sure if that particular event would produce superheavies, but in terms of detection, the best hope is actually looking at meteorites. Traces in olivine crystals and the like showing impacts of elements from billions of years ago can be measured, showing you the mass of what hit - and from the mass you can prove if a superheavy element existed before it decayed.

imgonnahatethislater6 karma

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?

mrcchapman14 karma

I'm still researching. Ask me when I'm done!

Advice... start doing sci comm now. A lot of countries have competitions, meet ups, tweet-ups. Get involved as soon as you can. The UK has Fame Lab and Bright Club, for example.

Also start a blog. Get writing. Talk about what interests you. Build a community. That kind of social interaction is invaluable to learn good writing, particularly in science, and in impressing potential employers.

michaelmcabando6 karma

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

mrcchapman6 karma

Tentatively. I'm not sure it's going to be immediate, so I'll be more excited when the first ping happens. Personally I expect to see more progress in 2019 than the first RIKEN run.

bitter_truth_6 karma

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

mrcchapman9 karma

Hard work. It's all about willing to keep trying new things, not being sloppy. The Japanese team took 10 years to find what they were looking for. Months of beam time, 24/7. That's dedication.

IPW5006 karma

Favorite food?

mrcchapman18 karma

I'm a fatty, so I pretty much eat whatever is not good for me.

I do like a good sunday roast though: beef, Yorkshire pudding, parsnips, carrots, roast potatoes, gravy.

Patch956 karma

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POphxfF7S0E

mrcchapman7 karma

No, I'm only writing about man-made elements (except technetium and promethium). I've been to Cornwall before, though.

CreamPie_e6 karma

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

mrcchapman16 karma

Some of it I understand. A lot of it needs breaking down. And some of it needs breaking down after that.

And even then I have no idea what the hell quantum physics is all about.

But that's OK. I was at a superheavy element conference in Poland, and I left one session as it was over my head. Outside, I ran into a world-class, well respected chemist, and I told him that I wasn't following it.

"Neither was I," he said. "So I'm going for a swim in the pool, instead."

If he doesn't get it, it's OK for me not to get it!

account__25 karma

When is Half Life 4 coming out?

mrcchapman14 karma

After some stupid DOTA card game.

Kwisatz--Haderach5 karma

Is Bob Lazar right about this?

mrcchapman10 karma

No.

Snakeoilsage5 karma

?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?

mrcchapman8 karma

Silicon, because of computers. Carbon, because of plastics. There's no one element.

beren2615 karma

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

mrcchapman6 karma

There's quite a few labs that are really important but you wouldn't ever suspect that country of being a major player if you don't know.

For example, one of the world's leading theoretical physicists in the area is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

myke1134 karma

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

mrcchapman4 karma

Great piece on this here. And no... although whether the periodic table actually exists beyond 118 given periodicity is lost is a great question!

ArseneMcMahon4 karma

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

mrcchapman15 karma

Yes, anyone can become a journalist. Social awkwardness and shyness are not boundaries, although most of the jobs do require attending press conferences. You just have to take a deep breath, pluck up some courage and ask.

One of the best shy journos I know is a numbers dork, so she does a lot of freedom of information requests and data journalism, ploughing through the stats to find the story. She's amazing at it, so her skills are really in demand. No awkward social bits required.

TylenolWithCodeine4 karma

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?

mrcchapman6 karma

Seaborgium is pretty interesting because we've started actually looking at its chemistry. There's a neat video on it here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the element is that its naming was in the middle of the 'transfermium wars' - arguments between the US and Russians as to who discovered which element, and what elements could be called. It was almost called rutherfordium - which is now element 104, which was almost called kurchatovium. The whole naming of the element is an amazing story.

Yoshicoon4 karma

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

mrcchapman5 karma

No, it's on my list. I've been to JINR, the Russian answer to CERN.

rickmuscles4 karma

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?

mrcchapman10 karma

Ask them a really nerdy question.

Most scientists who are a little uncomfortable with the media (and who can blame them) are worried about not being understood. So if you ask them a question about something very specific to their area of research, you show you've done your homework and you're not looking for some gimmick headline.

I had one very difficult interview once (not for this book - everyone has been amazing), so I asked the guy this silly philosophical question about the nature of something pretty technical. The question was directly related to his field, and immediately his whole demenour changed and he laughed and it was like 'oh thank God it's a question that I can have fun with'. After that he opened up.

rbe153 karma

Since 1945? You must be very old.

mrcchapman10 karma

I was frozen in a vault along with my wife and infant son. One day I'll get to MIT.

schmo0063 karma

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

mrcchapman4 karma

Sure. I'd name it proclaimium.

no_idea_help2 karma

You've meet all these scientists, any particular character traits that they share? What kind of people are they?

mrcchapman5 karma

They're all totally passionate about what they do. They love it, and that shines through. They're not obsessive - they all have lives outside the lab - but they all really enjoy it. It's not work, it's exploring the unknown.

As for people, they differ. Ages range from 90 to 30s, so it's a massive spectrum. Some are huge geeks (Star Wars fans, the Japanese team commissioned their own manga), some are ultramarathon runners, some are family people, some have tattoos and wear cowboy boots in the lab. It's every walk of life.

deevoonehish1 karma

What degrees do you have? How did you get into your line of work?

mrcchapman3 karma

Masters in pharmacy. I didn't like sick people so I became a science journalist.

goobuddy1 karma

But, whose the most schwifty?#RnM

mrcchapman11 karma

I don't know, I just pass the butter.

rikkirikkiparmparm1 karma

This includes Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national labs in California... Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia

I mean those right there practically discovered an entire block on their own, right?

mrcchapman2 karma

Yeah, it's kind of astonishing that some scientists (Al Ghiorso being a prime example) discovered so many elements.