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Chemistry Pioneer Glenn Seaborg Dies

Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg died at his home last night. Seaborg pioneered the creation of heavy elements and had a hand in the discovery of plutonium, element 106--which now bears his name--and eight other elements. He was 86.

"Dr. Seaborg was a true giant of the 20th century, a legend in the annals of scientific discovery," says Charles Shank, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Seaborg spent much of his career. "We who have been touched by his wisdom, his energy, and his tireless devotion to our profession will miss him."

Seaborg is perhaps best known for his role in the discovery of plutonium in 1940. Using the 60-inch cyclotron built by Ernest Lawrence, Seaborg and his colleagues bombarded a sample of uranium with deuterons, converting it to plutonium. In 1944, Seaborg formulated the "actinide concept" of heavy element electronic structure, which showed how the transuranium elements fit in the periodic table. This knowledge helped set the stage for the creation of a whole series of elements, including americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, and element 106, which was officially named "seaborgium" in August 1997. That marked the first time an element had been named for a living person. Seaborg called it his greatest honor.

Seaborg's death came while he was convalescing after suffering a stroke last August, while in Boston for the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. At the meeting, Seaborg was named one of the "Top 75 Distinguished Contributors to the Chemical Enterprise."