A Legacy Left on the Periodic Table
Alum Megan Bennett’s dedication to chemistry led to the discovery of Element 117 — Tennessine (TS).
Megan Bennett ’05 grew up with a passion for science. That passion evolved into an impressive career that involved the discovery of a chemistry element, mentorship of multiple Brockport students at a national lab, and even cancer research — all before her passing on January 9, 2020.
Bennett’s career began with the choice to attend college in upstate New York. She visited a handful of options with her mother Carole Bennett-Quagliata.
“She knew right away that she wanted to go to SUNY Brockport after the open house,” Bennett-Quagliata said. “All of the professors we met from the department were so warm and lovely to us.”
Bennett spent four years studying in the Department of Chemistry at Brockport, where she experienced the loss of her father, but continued her studies thanks to faculty support.
“Tom Kallen, who was chair [of the department] at the time, told Megan to take whatever time she needed and that when she was ready, her professors would make sure to catch her up on the material,” Bennett-Quagliata said.
Bennett also worked as a lab assistant for Assistant Director of Environmental Health and Safety Elizabeth Gregory. The two became close friends and stayed in contact after Bennett attended Virginia Tech to earn her master’s degree, where she would experience another tragedy — the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
“Despite all of the tragedies she experienced during her time at college, she persevered and became an expert in a field that relatively few people can even begin to comprehend,” Gregory said.
Bennett’s expertise in the field of nuclear chemistry developed shortly after the shooting, when she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to earn her doctorate. There, she studied with Associate Professor of Health Physics Ralf Sudowe, and the pair was invited to join a team in Russia working on the discovery of a new element. Bennett spent much of her time in Russia working with a supercollider to provide data analysis for the team, which would eventually succeed in discovering element-117, also known as Tennessine (TS).
“Megan and Ralf provided critical data analysis in the experiment that produced element 117,” Gregory said. “This research was her proudest professional accomplishment and paved the way for her to have an astounding career in the field of radiochemistry.”
Bennett went on to work as the analytical lab manager at the University of Chicago Argonne National Laboratory, where she often hosted Brockport students for paid summer internships researching and studying nuclear chemistry.
“This was an incredible opportunity for these students to not only experience research, but also to delve into the topic of nuclear chemistry,” Gregory said. “These internships were Megan’s way of giving back to Brockport, by allowing our students to have what truly was the experience of a lifetime.”
Bennett continued her research in nuclear chemistry by accepting a job at SHINE Medical Technologies in Wisconsin, where she hoped to achieve one of her lifelong dreams.
“Megan’s dream was always to be a part of the cure for cancer,” said Bennett-Quagliata.
Bennett worked on the production of Moly-99, a radioisotope that can detect cancer and other fatal ailments. Moly-99’s production is done almost entirely in other countries, which makes it expensive to purchase, as the isotopes decay rate is roughly one percent per hour. Her goal was to begin manufacturing the isotope in the United States in order to reduce the cost of the isotopes production. While Bennett passed away before she could achieve this goal, the work she has already done will live on at SHINE.