List of chemical elements naming controversies
The currently accepted names and symbols of the chemical elements are determined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), usually following recommendations by the recognized discoverers of each element. However the names of several elements have been the subject of controversies until IUPAC established an official name. In most cases the controversy was due to a priority dispute as to who first found conclusive evidence for the existence of an element, or as to what evidence was in fact conclusive. This article provides a brief history of these controversies, in order of the atomic number of the elements concerned.
Vanadium (named after Vanadis, another name for Freyja, the Scandinavian goddess of fertility) was originally discovered by Andrés Manuel del Río (a Spanish-born Mexican mineralogist) in Mexico City in 1801. He discovered the element after being sent a sample of "brown lead" ore (plomo pardo de Zimapán, now named vanadinite). Through experimentation, he found it to form salts with a wide variety of colors, so he named the element panchromium (Greek: all colors). He later renamed this substance erythronium, since most of the salts turned red when heated. The French chemist Hippolyte Victor Collet-Descotils incorrectly declared that del Río's new element was only impure chromium. Del Río thought himself to be mistaken and accepted the statement of the French chemist that was also backed by del Río's friend Alexander von Humboldt.
In 1831, Sefström of Sweden rediscovered vanadium in a new oxide he found while working with some iron ores. He chose to call the element vanadium after the Old Norse Vanadís, another name for the Norse Vanr goddess Freyja, whose facets include connections to beauty and fertility, because of the many beautifully colored chemical compounds it produces. Later that same year Friedrich Wöhler confirmed del Río's earlier work. Later, George William Featherstonhaugh, one of the first US geologists, suggested that the element should be named "rionium" after del Río, but this never happened.
Elements 41 and 74
Charles Hatchett named element 41 columbium in 1801 (Cb), but after the publication of the identity of columbium with tantalum by William Hyde Wollaston in 1802 the claims of discovery of Hattchet were refused. In 1846 Heinrich Rose discovered that tantalite contained an element similar to tantalum and named it niobium.
IUPAC officially adopted niobium in 1950 after 100 years of controversy. This was a compromise of sorts, the IUPAC accepted tungsten instead of wolfram (in deference to North American usage) and niobium instead of columbium (in deference to European usage).
Elements 70 and 71
In 1878 Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac assumed that ytterbia consisted of a new element he called ytterbium (but actually there were two new elements). In 1907 Georges Urbain isolated element 70 and element 71 from ytterbia. He called element 70 neoytterbia ("new ytterbium") and called element 71 lutecia. At about the same time, Carl Auer von Welsbach also independently isolated these and proposed the names aldebaranium (Ad), after the star Aldebaran (in the constellation of Taurus), for element 70 (ytterbium), and cassiopium (Cp), after the constellation Cassiopeia, for element 71 (lutetium), but both proposals were rejected.
Neoytterbia (element 70) was eventually reverted to ytterbium (following Marignac) and in 1949 the spelling of lutecia (element 71) was changed to lutetium; although some German chemists still use cassiopium instead of lutetium.
(Other elements, yttrium (element 39) and gadolinium (element 64), were also discovered in gadolinite and its components, but there was no controversy about their names.)
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At the time of their discovery, there was an element naming controversy as to what (particularly) the elements from 103 to 105 were to be called. At last, a committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) resolved the dispute and adopted one name. They also adopted a temporary systematic element name.
- Element 103
- Element 104
The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna (then U.S.S.R., today Russia) named element 104 kurchatovium (Ku) in honor of Igor Kurchatov. But the University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A. named element 104 rutherfordium (Rf) in honor of Ernest Rutherford. In 1997 a committee of IUPAC recommended that element 104 be named rutherfordium.
- Element 105
The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna named element 105 nielsbohrium (Ns) after Niels Bohr. But the University of California, Berkeley named element 105 hahnium (Ha) in honor of Otto Hahn. IUPAC recommended that element 105 be named dubnium, after Dubna.
- Elements 105 and 107
Some suggested the name nielsbohrium (Ns), named in honor of Niels Bohr, others believed this name should be given to element 105 (dubnium), the name being too similar to element 107 (bohrium, Bh). IUPAC adopted unnilseptium (Uns) as a temporary systematic element name. In 1994 a committee of IUPAC recommended that element 107 be named bohrium.
While this conforms to the names of other elements honoring individuals where only the surname is taken, it was opposed by many who were concerned that it could be confused with boron. Despite this, the name bohrium for element 107 was recognized internationally in 1997.
- Element 106
The element was discovered almost simultaneously by two different laboratories. In June 1974, a Soviet team led by G. N. Flyorov at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research at Dubna reported producing an isotope 259106, and in September 1974, an American research team led by Albert Ghiorso at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley reported creating an isotope 263106. Because their work was independently confirmed first, the Americans suggested the name seaborgium (Sg) in honor of Glenn T. Seaborg, an American chemist. But this name was extremely controversial because Seaborg was still alive.
An international committee decided in 1992 that the Berkeley and Dubna laboratories should share credit for the discovery. An element naming controversy erupted and as a result IUPAC adopted unnilhexium (Unh) as a temporary, systematic element name.
In 1994 a committee of IUPAC adopted a rule that no element can be named after a living person. This ruling was fiercely objected to by the American Chemical Society.
Critics pointed out that a precedent had been set in the naming of einsteinium (Es), element 99, during Albert Einstein's life, although it was not publicly announced until after his death. In 1997, as part of a compromise involving elements 104 to 108, the name seaborgium for element 106 was recognized internationally.
- Element 108
IUPAC adopted unniloctium (Uno) as a temporary, systematic element name. In 1994 a committee of IUPAC recommended that element 108 be named hassium (Hs), and the name was adopted internationally in 1997.
While meitnerium was discussed in the naming controversy, "meitnerium" was the only proposal and thus never disputed. Elements 110 (Ds, darmstadtium), 111 (Rg, roentgenium), 112 (Cn, copernicium), 114 (Fl, flerovium), and 116 (Lv, livermorium) were named after the end of the controversy.
- Element 109
IUPAC adopted unnilennium (Une) as a temporary, systematic element name. In 1997 a committee of IUPAC resolved the dispute and adopted the name meitnerium (Mt).
- List of chemical element name etymologies
- Symbol (chemical element)#Symbols not currently used
- IUPAC/IUPAP Joint Working Party reports on claims of new transuranium elements.
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