Glenn T. Seaborg Award in Nuclear Chemistry | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 3 | p. 60 | Awards
Issue Date: January 15, 2007

Glenn T. Seaborg Award in Nuclear Chemistry

Department: ACS News
Credit: Foto Rimbach Mainz
Credit: Foto Rimbach Mainz

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology

Norbert G. Trautmann, 67, had the benefit of professional contact with Glenn T. Seaborg and Otto Hahn at formative stages in his career. While working for his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, in Germany, Trautmann was part of a group that discovered the heaviest isotopes of protactinium. Hahn, who discovered protactinium with Lise Meitner, took an interest in this work when he occasionally visited his partner in splitting the atom, Fritz Strassmann, still at Mainz in the 1960s. "He also dropped in on my lab and asked what was going on with protactinium," Trautmann recalls.

After receiving his Ph.D., Trautmann initiated work on fast chemical separation methods, mainly based on solvent extractions. The methods had to separate a single element from a mixture of 30 or more elements in fission product mixtures and perform the separation quickly enough to accommodate the sometimes subsecond half-lives of the isotopes of the isolated elements.

In 1970, Seaborg become interested in the fast-separation techniques that Trautmann was developing and invited him to come to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where he worked in 1970 and 1971 under Seaborg and Albert Ghiorso. Trautmann recalls Seaborg fondly. "At that time, you could ask him more or less anything about the heaviest elements," Trautmann says. "I admired him very much."

Gerhart Friedlander, a retired senior chemist with Brookhaven National Laboratory, says Seaborg himself would be impressed by Trautmann's body of work, noting that "Trautmann coauthored several publications with him and has contributed significantly to the field closest to Seaborg's heart: production and properties of the heaviest elements."

Following his fellowship at LBNL, Trautmann returned to Mainz, where he became the deputy manager of the Research Reactor TRIGA Mainz at the Institute for Nuclear Chemistry (INC). He became the manager of the research reactor in 1991, a position he gave up only a few months ago.

Friedlander recalls, from visits to INC, Trautmann's boundless energy. "He really seems to be the one who keeps all the wheels in the institute turning," he says. "His nonstop work habits are legendary. Time and time again, I have seen experiments and projects on the verge of foundering until Trautmann came to the rescue and led them to success."

Trautmann's work at the research reactor was also seminal. Guenter F. Herrmann, his thesis adviser at Mainz, rates Trautmann's development of rapid chemical separation techniques and resonance ionization mass spectrometry (RIMS) of actinide elements as major accomplishments. "Trautmann was the first to master complicated separation schemes involving several steps on a time scale of seconds," Hermann says. "This made numerous new nuclides in the complex fission product mixture accessible for study."

Trautmann says these methods enabled measurements of the fission properties of short-lived isotopes. Using a centrifuge system developed with international partners, Trautmann then focused on chemical properties of transactinide elements with atomic numbers of 104 or greater.

RIMS was used by Trautmann and coworkers to determine the first ionization potential of the elements americium through einsteinium for the first time and for the ultratrace analysis of transuranium elements, particularly plutonium.

Trautmann has authored or coauthored more than 300 papers. He won the Fritz-Strassmann Award of the German Chemical Society in 1984, the Helmholtz Award of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt Braunschweig in 1990, and the Otto Hahn Award of the City of Frankfurt in 1998.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology.

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