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Can U=C It?

Los Alamos chemist Jaqueline Kiplinger explains to maintain a delicate balance between serendipity and perseverance on the path to discovery.
February 1, 2019
A woman wearing safety glasses standing in a lab.

Jaqueline Kiplinger in her lab

“Pure chemistry is a lot more captivating than early-college-me could possibly have known.”- Jaqueline Kiplinger, Los Alamos Fellow and Chemist

“Since coming to Los Alamos,” says Kiplinger, “I spend most of my time mountain biking, gardening, hiking, and hanging out with my family, cats, and friends—and, of course, trying to make uranium atoms double-bond to carbon: U=C. For nearly two decades, I have been consistently pursuing that. The simple fact that this double bond is so incredibly, unexpectedly hard to make implies that something deeper is going on here—some new aspect of an atom’s electronic structure that no one in the world knows about yet. And now that we’ve trapped it, we’re much closer to understanding it.

“To the uninitiated (and, I suppose, to plenty of professional chemists), it may sound absurd to spend two decades pursuing one troublesome double bond. And had that been my sole focus the whole time, it might have been a bit monomaniacal. But my uranium research also produced a number of practical but unanticipated spinoff discoveries along the way.”

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