Episode 30: American Chemistry

Glenn Seaborg

The portrait of Glenn Seaborg is from the United States Atomic Energy Commission’s Division of Public Information, courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Chemistry has been part of the American experience ever since the settlers at Jamestown built a lab for blowing glass and assaying metal (you can learn more on our Jamestown episode). Today we celebrate the 4th of July with a tribute to American scientific and technological achievements—and we’ve thrown in some fireworks, just for fun. We start with Glenn Seaborg (pictured) and the trans-uranium elements. Named for their position on the period table following uranium, the trans-uranium elements are all radioactive, with short-half lives, and all have their origins in the lab. Seaborg’s research group at the University of California discovered 10 of them. Next, we chat with Dale Keairns, the president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, about a century’s worth of engineering progress. Element of the Week: Americium.

Show Clock

00:00 Opening Credits
00:31 Introduction
00:57 Element of the Week: Americium
03:03 A Conversation with Dale Keairns
07:22 Mystery Solved! Fireworks
09:54 Quote: Vannevar Bush
10:25 Closing Credits

Resources and References

For background on americium: This reference page, from an online periodic table prepared by the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Chemistry Division.
For more on the Manhattan Project, including documentary histories by participants in the project, visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
The AIChE and CHF are preparing a special Web site dedicated to the AIChE centennial. Check for updates here.
Our information on fireworks was largley adapted from this helpful site prepared by the Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin.
Today’s quote is taken from the transmittal letter that accompanied Vannevar Bush’s famous 1945 memo, Science, The Endless Frontier. Thanks to the National Science Foundation, you can now read the entire document online.


A special thanks to Chi Chan for researching the show.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music from the PodSafe Music Network. The music at the Element of the Week is “Meltdown Man,” by Derek K. Miller. At the show ID, you’re hearing “The Corner of Sacco and Vanzetti,” by Shibboleth. The show ends with “Blink and You’ll Miss ‘Em,” by DJOC.


Posted In: Society | Technology

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