Elementary

And now her name will never be forgotten!As was pointed out in the comments of my post about Lise Meitner the other day, I forgot to mention that she actually had the last laugh. You see, Meitner received what is arguably one of the greatest honours a scientist can ever receive. She now has an element which bears her name!

Meitnerium, element number 109, first synthesised in 1982 and named in 1997 – poetically, superheavy “transuranic” elements like this one were exactly what Lise Meitner was originally trying to create.

Interestingly enough, there was some controversy over the names of several such heavy atoms, with several proposals of names in honour of different scientists from various parts of the world. The full intricacy of that story deserve to be told in their own right, but for now I’ll simply make mention of a piece of quite permanent justice. Otto Hahn, who received the Nobel prize which should also have belonged to Meitner, was nominated to have an element named after him. But the element “Hahnium” (which was considered at different times for elements 105 and 108) was never to be, and Hahn would never have his name on the periodic table. Throughout the naming controversy, however, one name was never once disputed – everyone agreed that 109 should be given the name of Meitnerium!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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2 Responses to Elementary

  1. Prof. Bleen says:

    Meitnerium is the only element named entirely after a woman (curium having been officially named for both Marie and Pierre Curie). Oops—indeed, I was wrong in saying earlier that the name “hahnium” was considered for element 104. I believe that the Russians nominated “kurchatovium” for element 104. Although espionage probably contributed more to the development of the first Soviet nuclear bomb than any single person, Kurchatov earns my admiration simply for surviving though its development, given the insane pressure he was under, not to mention the threat of probable execution if the first test had fizzled.

    I wonder what the seventh row of the periodic table would look like if the discoverer still had exclusive naming rights to new elements. Element 115 would probably wind up with the name “minecraftium.”

    • invaderxan says:

      Easy mistake to make, it would seem – both elements 104 and 105 were apparently candidates for the name “Dubnium”, which 105 now owns. Though while Kurchatovium was indeed another suggestion for 104, I didn’t actually know anything about poor Kurchatov himself. Another whom I should read about, methinks!

      Given the author lists on certain CERN papers can take up entire pages, I have the feeling that if the old naming convention still applied, there would either be a lot of infighting, or else there wouldn’t nearly be enough space for all the text!

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