Finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books (Young adults)

Superheavy book Kit Chapman

Order Superheavy now

A must for anyone interested in how humans have expanded, and continue to expand, the boundaries of scientific knowledge

Publishers Weekly

Creating an element is no easy feat. It’s the equivalent of firing six trillion bullets a second at a needle in a haystack, hoping the bullet and needle somehow fuse together, then catching it in less than a thousandth of a second – after which it’s gone forever. Welcome to the world of the superheavy elements: a realm where scientists use giant machines and spend years trying to make a single atom of mysterious artefacts that have never existed on Earth.

A fine pop-science account of elements that are rewriting the laws of atomic structure


From the first elements past uranium and their role in the atomic bomb to the latest discoveries stretching our chemical world, Superheavy will reveal the hidden stories lurking at the edges of the periodic table. Why did the US Air Force fly planes into mushroom clouds? Who won the transfermium wars? How did an earthquake help give Japan its first element? And what happened when Superman almost spilled nuclear secrets?

A compelling snapshot of the paranoia resulting from the Cold War as well as an insight into the chemistry on the outskirts of the periodic table

Nature Reviews Chemistry

In a globe-trotting adventure that stretches from the United States to Russia, Sweden to Australia, Superheavy is your guide to the amazing science filling in the missing pieces of the periodic table. By the end you’ll not only marvel at how nuclear science has changed our lives – you’ll wonder where it’s going to take us in the future.

Well quite a tale

Simon Mayo, broadcaster and author of the Itch books

This deeply researched and engaging tour of the nether reaches of the periodic table will delight and inform everyone

Philip Ball, author of Beyond Weird

Hugely entertaining … a real eye-opener

Andrea Sella, chemist, University College London

With meticulous attention to detail and careful research, Chapman masterfully captures the excitement, politics and competition of the transuranic elements

Jess Wade, physics research associate, Imperial College London

Superheavy: Making and Breaking the Periodic Table by Kit Chapman
Published by Bloomsbury Sigma 2019


I have tried to make Superheavy as factually accurate as possible. Invariably, mistakes have slipped in. Some are minor technical points; some are due to arguments between sources that insist the ‘official’ record is wrong; others keep me awake at night. Here are my mea culpas:

  • Ernest Lawrence’s parents were children of Norwegian immigrants, so he was the grandchild of Norwegians, not child as stated
  • The photo of the Berkeley team on the 60-inch cyclotron of course shows them on the electromagnet housing
  • The Chernobyl disaster happened on the night of 25 April, not
    2 April (an annoying error because I slipped while sending off my proofs and accidentally deleted a number!)
  • An F-84 was capable of dropping the Mk 7 nuclear bomb, which had a yield of up to 61 kilotons – about equal to the entire bombing campaign of the Korean War, but not 20x as stated. Modern fighters are capable of dropping the B83 nuke, which has a yield of 1.2 megatons and where my 20x mistake arose
  • A reference to femtometres (which is very small) should be femtobarns (which is even smaller!)
  • Peet’s Coffee is at 152 Livermore Ave., not 122. Its location is otherwise correct
  • FRIB is at Michigan State University, not the University of Michigan. Don’t worry, a whole team of Spartans has already taken me to task on this one.