Aspiring scientist Daniel Shakaryan with Dr. Oganesyan Photo credit: Frederick Melikian

Celebrating Work of Singular Heavy Metal Expert Dr. Oganesyan


GLENDALE — Internationally renowned nuclear physicist Dr. Yuri Oganesyan, the only living person on the periodic table of elements, was honored for his lifetime achievements by the Armenian Engineers and Scientists of America (AESA) during its 35th anniversary gala at the Armenian Society of Los Angeles on Saturday, January 19.

The academician, who is scientific director of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia, is considered the world’s leading researcher in super heavy chemical elements. It was with his significant achievements in mind that the AESA bestowed upon him the Victor Harmbartsumyan Award, named after the legendary astrophysicist, and given to engineer and scientists of Armenian descent to recognize their technical excellence and contributions to their fields and to the greater community.

In an exclusive interview (aided by translator Dr. Gagik Melikyan, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, Northridge), Oganesyan said he was “honored” to receive the Victor Hambardzumyan Award that is named after a “prominent astrophysicist” whose work he respects.

Dr. Oganesyan Photo credit: Frederick Melikian

Throughout his accomplished career, Oganesyan focused his research on nuclear reactions, synthesis of new elements of the periodic table, and investigation of their properties that led to the discovery of six elements in the periodic table, one of which, element 118 (Oganesson, Og 118) was named after him in 2016 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

His humility shone through when he explained the logistics and unwritten rules of how elements receive their names. He noted that they can be locations of where the element was discovered, such as Berkeley or Dubna, or after the scientists who discovered them “as a way to immortalize them.”

A graduate of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, Oganesyan was raised by an engineer father who worked for Yerevan’s City Council and by a mother who always encouraged his abilities in the math and sciences. He initially aspired to become an architect, the course of his studies changed when he was awarded a gold medal (valedictorian) in high school for his academic excellence. Because of this accolade, Oganesyan was automatically admitted to any school of his choice without entrance exams and decided to pursue physics, a field he has dominated for more than 60 years.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

He explained what excites him about his work in the sciences is that “it’s difficult to anticipate what is next because anything can change unexpectedly.”

John-Emannuel Shirajian presents Dr. Oganesyan with the Victor Harmbartsumyan Award and plaque Photo credit: Frederick Melikian

He observes that the sciences are an important field “for any nation” but emphasized Armenia’s dominance during Soviet times as the “most scientifically developed country in the Soviet Union.”

“It was popular among the youth and the academic institutions were very developed and recognized, not only in the Soviet Union, but around the world as well,” said Oganesyan, who noted the “huge scientific potential” of Armenia. “Even on the genetic level, there is a scientific tradition passed down from parents to their children and it is very important that it carries on from one generation to the other.”

FLNR, where Oganesyan is the scientific director, has served as the center for nuclear research in the Soviet Union for almost a century.

He expressed his appreciation to the AESA for inviting him to the United States.

“I’m very glad I’m here,” said Oganesyan, who has authored 800 scientific papers. “This is my first visit to Los Angeles and it is quite an interesting and fascinating atmosphere where I am surrounded by so many Armenians.”

Senator Anthony Portantino presenting a certificate of recognition to Dr. Oganesyan Photo credit: Frederick Melikian

During the afternoon’s press conference, Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia Arayik Harutyunyan congratulated Oganesyan, who has received the highest honors in the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, including the USSR State Prize and the Russian Federation National Award, as well as the Lise Meitner Prize of the European Physical Society, and the Order of Honor of the Republic of Armenia, among many other notable awards.

“We give great importance to the development of science and technology in Armenia,” said Harutyunyan. “The network between Armenia and the Diaspora in science and engineering is very important to us and we want this network to be part of a new scientific agenda in Armenia.”

Oganesyan has been a longtime advocate of advancing the sciences in Armenia and stressed his Armenian heritage and strong ties to the country.

“I am Armenian and I always say I am Armenian,” said Oganesyan, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A decade ago I gathered the 10 most prominent scientists from around world and I told them to look at the potential and what can be done in Armenia.”

Oganesyan explained that during their research, they uncovered that the oncology death rate was high in Armenia and they set out to discover why.

“We asked ourselves if it was a curse or if it was something else,” said Oganesyan. “We realized that diagnostic tests were missing and we identified a priority area to create scientific centers.”

In the years that followed, Oganesyan developed the National Center of Excellence of Oncology in Yerevan as well as the establishment of the A. I. Alikhanian National Science Laboratory Center for Isotope Production and Diagnostics.

He maintains a close relationship to Armenia and supports the flourishing of the sciences there, along with the assistance of the AESA.

“It is really meaningful to have Dr. Oganesyan with us as we celebrate our 35th anniversary,” said John-Emmanuel Shirajian, president of AESA, in an exclusive interview. “We are extremely honored and proud that he came and accepted our invitation.”

The non-profit organization seeks to advance, promote, and disseminate science and technology in Armenia and the Diaspora by encouraging technical and entrepreneurial interactions among Armenian scientists and engineers around the globe.

“Our mission is to be useful to our local community, the youth, as well as scientists in Armenia and Artsakh,” said Shirajian.

Annually, the AESA organizes a Science Olympiad for Armenian schools in Los Angeles, along with curating lectures on science, engineering, and technology. The non-sectarian organization also offers scholarships, funds and undertakes projects in science and engineering in Armenia. Its most recent focus has been directed towards nation building by championing the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Specific projects the AESA has undertaken to benefit Armenia include establishing mobile science labs in the Noyemberyan region so students can receive hands-on experience in physics, chemistry and mathematics.

“It is so important that we give the knowledge of science and math to a new generation,” said Shirajian. “We should cooperate with students and scientists in Armenia because while they are talented, sometimes they lack the resources we have.”

Celebrating AESA Goals

The evening’s gala was a sold-out affair with more than 350 guests, as scientists, engineers, professionals and friends and supporters of AESA gathered to celebrate this milestone. The festive occasion was filled with culture and showcased the Armenian brain power and dedication to its heritage, including live performances by Nune Avetisyan, Grand Stage Dance, PRIMA and Nectar at the Armenian Society of Los Angeles.

Dignitaries included Consul-General Armen Baibourtian, PhD, as well as Minister of Education Harutyunyan, who were representing Armenia; California State Sen. Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who presented Certificates of Recognition to Oganesyan.

Proceeds from the gala were earmarked towards three symbolic projects in Armenia: setting up mobile science labs for students, providing potable water dispensaries and delivering vital medicine to families in Armenia.

The AESA has indeed thrived throughout its history and has brought the significance of science to the forefront as it continues to benefit Armenia and the Diasporan communities. The organization has certainly fulfilled the vision of Dr. Hagop Panossian and Dr. Stepan Simonian when they sought to create a worldwide Armenian scientific institution in the 1970s. The AESA has come a long way since its first official meeting in June 1983 in Burbank and currently boasts a wide network of talented professionals who are looking towards the future as they develop programs relevant and beneficial to Armenia.

“Organizations like AESA that have a STEM based value system, professionalism, and global reach can and must play a central role in catapulting Armenia and the diaspora towards a brighter future,” said Richard Ohanian, the current vice president and president-elect. “We strive to empower scientists, technologists, engineers and professionals in Armenia and the Diaspora to realize their full potential and impact the Armenian nation, state and the world.”

The significance of upholding science and engineering, particularly in Armenia, is of significance to Shirajian and the AESA, as it serves as the basis of society.

“If you don’t have science, you don’t have industry, if you don’t have industry, you don’t have economy and if you don’t have economy, you don’t have a country,” said Shirajian. “Science and math are the foundation of any country.”

For more information about AESA and its upcoming projects, visit

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: