Clarice Phelps

Clarice E Phelps

Engineer, Radioisotope Science and Technology Division

Clarice joined ORNL in 2009, first working as a nuclear operations technician at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center, processing and purifying radioisotopes. In 2010, she began working for the Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division, where she was part of a team that helped purify the isotope berkelium-249, which was used to confirm the discovery of element 117, later named Tennessine, on the periodic table. She later served as program manager for the Ni-63 and Se-75 industrial use isotope programs and as the principal investigator for the Radiation Signature Training Device Program. 

Clarice's research has focused on actinide and lanthanide separations for isotope applications in medicine, industry, and for various government agencies. She contributed to several other notable research efforts, including spectroscopic analysis of Pu-238/ Np-237 and their valance states for the Pu-238/ NASA project, and electrodeposition work with Cf-252 for the CARIBU (Californium Rare Isotope Breeder Upgrade) Project.

She is a graduate of Nashville's Tennessee State University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on Nuclear and Radiation Engineering from the University of Texas-Austin.  She is currently a PhD candidate in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Clarice is a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), American Nuclear Society (ANS), as well as as the Educational Outreach Committee for the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate, and has served on ORNL's African American Resource Council (AARC). She has been notably recognized as the first Black woman involved in the discovery of an element.

Other recognitions and awards Clarice has received include the 2017 Knoxville YWCA Tribute to Women Award in the area of Technology, Research, and Innovation; she was selected in 2019 by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) for the Periodic Table of Young Chemists representing the element Einsteinium (Es); she was named to the Knoxville News Sentinel's 2020 “Top 40 under 40”; and was a 2021 GEM Fellow, completing her internship at ORNL. She has received several awards and recognition from Oak Ridge National Lab, to include the Community Outreach Award with Yo-STEM, which brings STEM education to underserved communities, and recently, the ORNL Science Communicator Award as well as the ORNL Director’s Award. She has also recently appeared on the cover of the Fall 2019 Minority Engineer Magazine, appeared in People magazine, Diversity in Action magazine, as well as appeared on the cover and inside of the 50 Women in Technology book published by Aurora Metro Books. She has also presented a Ted Talk at the Tedx Nashville event in December 2019 entitled “Claiming My Seat at the Periodic Table” where she talked about her journey in the STEM field, her accomplishments, and what she has learned along the way.

She has given talks for National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as serving as an invited keynote speaker at Gonzaga University, Valdosta State University, Wayne State University, Wichita State University, Tennessee State University, The University of TN- Knoxville, and the TN Science Bowl. She has made appearances on several Podcasts, as well as the “What You Need to Know” show with Sybil Wilkes, the “Stay A While Show” with Tommi Vincent, several Facebook live shows, CNN, the Drew Barrymore Show, and recently as a guest on “The Talk” which airs on CBS. 

Clarice has taught, as a special instructor, at the Project G.R.A.D. (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) Summer institute for high school students involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) programs. She has been a guest instructor on the basics of Nuclear Engineering and radiochemistry at Pellissippi State Community College’s Academic Summit and serves as an adjunct professor teaching radiochemistry in the newly developed chemical radiation technician career pathway at PSCC. She has been involved with after-school educational programs at Austin-East Magnet High School in association with A1 Learning Connections, and is a board member and vice president for the nonprofit YO-STEM. Clarice has also volunteered at Knox County Career Fairs for middle school students, Science Expos and traveling science fairs sponsored by ORNL, and the 2015 National Nuclear Science Week.

She is a former vice president of the Knoxville graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (AKA) and was the Southeastern Regional Registration Chairman for AKA’s 88th Southeastern Regional Conference. She is also an active member of the Knoxville Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.