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Glenn T. Seaborg Award For Nuclear Chemistry

by Corinna Wu
March 10, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 10

Loveland
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Credit: Courtesy of Walter Loveland
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Credit: Courtesy of Walter Loveland

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology

The quest for new superheavy elements requires the use of large particle accelerators to collide different types of nuclei together. Walter D. Loveland, a professor of chemistry at Oregon State University, has made a career studying the intricacies of this fundamental process. His systematic study of the nuclear reactions that create superheavy elements has provided powerful tools for scientists engaged in this search.

Loveland’s path to nuclear chemistry has been lit by influential figures along the way. Growing up in a blue-collar suburb of Chicago, Loveland initially considered attending vocational school to become an electrician. But he says a high school guidance counselor encouraged him to apply to college and to “shoot for the moon.” Loveland did apply and was accepted by several—including Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At MIT, a class in nuclear and radiochemistry taught by Charles D. Coryell, a scientist on the Manhattan Project, sparked Loveland’s interest in the field. Coryell was “an inspirational figure,” he says. His undergraduate research adviser, nuclear chemist Glen E. Gordon, also proved an important influence. Advising Loveland on where to pursue his graduate studies, Gordon pointed to the University of Washington—“a place where physics and chemistry would be treated together, because that’s important for this profession,” Loveland says. So after graduating from MIT with a major in chemistry in 1961, Loveland headed to Seattle.

He did his graduate work in the nuclear physics lab at the University of Washington, studying nuclear fission. After he received a Ph.D. in 1966, he returned to the Chicago area to do postdoctoral work at Argonne National Laboratory in the lab of John R. Huizenga.

In 1968, Loveland joined the faculty at Oregon State, where he pursued projects in environmental as well as nuclear chemistry. At the time of his first sabbatical leave in 1976, he was undecided about which field to follow. Then Glenn T. Seaborg invited Loveland to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to work as a visiting scientist. “That really shaped my career,” Loveland says. The experience was the beginning of a collaboration on the synthesis of superheavy elements that continued until Seaborg’s death in 1999.

In 1979, Seaborg, Loveland, and David J. Morrissey, now at Michigan State University, explained why scientists had been having difficulty synthesizing superheavy elements by using complete fusion reactions (Science 1979, DOI: 10.1126/science.203.4382.711). With subsequent work, Loveland developed a comprehensive model that is now widely used to predict the cross sections of heavy-element production.

Loveland also pioneered the use of radioactive beams in heavy-element synthesis. Prior to the 1980s, scientists had mostly collided stable isotopes together in their quest to create new elements. Loveland devised ways to use radioactive isotopes as projectiles, thus greatly expanding the range of nuclear reactions possible.

In 2003, Loveland and colleagues experimentally confirmed the discovery of element 110 (Phys. Rev. C 2003, DOI: 10.1103/physrevc.67.064609).

Loveland is the author of “Modern Nuclear Chemistry” and “The Elements Beyond Uranium,” two widely used books in the field.

Loveland will present the award address before the Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology.

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