Fred Allison

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Fred C. Allison
Born(1882-07-04)July 4, 1882
DiedAugust 2, 1974(1974-08-02) (aged 92)
Alma materJohns Hopkins University
University of Virginia
Known forUnfounded, erroneous claim to have discovered alabamium, and virginium
Scientific career
InstitutionsAuburn University
Doctoral advisorCarroll M. Sparrow

Fred C. Allison (July 4, 1882 – August 2, 1974) was an American physicist.[1][2] He developed a magneto-optic spectroscopy method [3][4] that became known as the Allison magneto-optic method. He claimed to have discovered two new elements (later discredited) using this method.[5] He taught at the Auburn University Physics Department for more than thirty years.[1]

Discovery of alabamine and virginium[edit]

From the work of Henry Moseley in 1914, it was known that several elements had not yet been discovered. Their chemical properties could be deduced from the vacant places in the periodic table of Dmitri Mendeleev. Several scientists claimed the discovery of the missing elements.[6] During Allison's work at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (which became Auburn University), starting in 1930, he developed a method that he believed measured the time dependence of the Faraday Effect.[5] Allison erroneously claimed that he had discovered the two missing elements with his magneto-optic spectroscopy. He claimed to have found element 87, now called francium, in pollucite and lepidolite.[7][8] He also claimed to have found element 85, now called astatine in monazite sand, a mineral which is rich in rare earth elements and thorium.[9] He named the two elements after the American states Virginia and Alabama, virginium and alabamine. Wendell Mitchell Latimer claimed to have discovered tritium in 1933 using the same method.[10]

After several years and several attempts to verify the claims of Allison, the method of magneto-optic spectroscopy was found to be unsuitable for the detection of the new elements.[11] The Allison magneto-optic effect, or simply the Allison effect, was discussed by Irving Langmuir in his now famous 1953 lecture on pathological science.[12]


Allison was born in Glade Spring, Virginia July 4, 1882 and earned a degree from Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia in 1904. After teaching at the same college, he decided to attend Johns Hopkins University Baltimore to get a degree in physics. After several years there (teaching at Emory and Henry and working on his Ph.D. in alternate years) he switched to the University of Virginia, and receiving his Ph.D. in physics in 1920 while working with Jesse Beams.

In 1922, Allison was invited to create the physics department of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which later became Auburn University. As Dean of the Graduate school, he helped found the school's first Ph.D. programs. He stayed at the Polytechnic Institute for 31 years, until mandatory retirement. He then returned to Emory and Henry College as chair of the science division for three years. This was followed by teaching physics at Huntingdon College from 1956 to 1968. After this last lecturing position, he returned in 1969 to Auburn University and continued his lab work until one month before his death on August 2, 1974. The Auburn University Physics building is named in his honor.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Biggs, Lindy; Knowlton, Stephen (September 2, 2008). "Fred Allison". The Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  2. ^ Carr, Howard E. (January 1975). "Fred Allison". Physics Today. 28 (1): 107–108. Bibcode:1975PhT....28a.107C. doi:10.1063/1.3068789.
  3. ^ Allison, Fred; Murphy, Edgar J. (1930). "A Magneto-optic Method of Chemical Analysis". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 52 (10): 3796. doi:10.1021/ja01373a005.
  4. ^ Allison, Fred (1932). "Magneto-optic method of analysis as a new research tool". Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Analytical Edition. 4: 9. doi:10.1021/ac50077a005.
  5. ^ a b "The Allison Magneto-Optic Method of Chemical Analysis". Mike Epstein, PhD (professor at Mount St. Mary's University. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  6. ^ Kauffman, George B.; Adloff, Jean-Pierre (2008). "Fred Allison's Magneto-Optic Search for Elements 85 and 87". The Chemical Educator. 13 (6): 358–364. doi:10.1333/s00897082174a.
  7. ^ Allison, Fred; Murphy, Edgar (1930). "Evidence of the Presence of Element 87 in Samples of Pollucite and Lepidolite Ores". Physical Review. 35 (3): 285. Bibcode:1930PhRv...35..285A. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.35.285.2.
  8. ^ Allison, Fred; Bishop, Edna R.; Sommer, Anna L.; Christensen, J. H. (1932). "Further Research on Element 87". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 54 (2): 613. doi:10.1021/ja01341a025.
  9. ^ Allison, Fred; Bishop, Edna R.; Sommer, Anna L. (1932). "Concentrations, Acids and Lithium Salts of Element 85". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 54 (2): 616. doi:10.1021/ja01341a026.
  10. ^ transcript of Langmuir's 1953 speech, see "Allison Effect" part
  11. ^ Trimble, R. F. (1975). "What happened to alabamine, virginium, and illinium?". J. Chem. Educ. 52 (9): 585. Bibcode:1975JChEd..52..585T. doi:10.1021/ed052p585.
  12. ^ I. Langmuir; R. N. Hall (1989). "Pathological Science". Physics Today. 42 (10): 36. Bibcode:1989PhT....42j..36L. doi:10.1063/1.881205.

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