The Sceptical Chymist | Nobelium – No!

Published in Chemistry

Controversies about the preparation of heavy elements are nothing new. While browsing through a 50-year-old issue of Nature, I came across a report describing the preparation of element-102 (Nature subscribers can see the report here). This described a multinational effort performed at The Nobel Institute of Physics, Stockholm, in which curium atoms were fused with carbon-13 atoms. The new element was named ‘Nobelium’ in honour of its place of birth.

Unfortunately, they were wrong. A year later, in 1958, the physicist Albert Ghiorso and his colleagues at Berkeley unambiguously identified nobelium-254 (the product of bombarding curium with carbon-12). They decided to retain the name of the new element – otherwise I suppose it might have become ‘Ghiorsium’, which somehow isn’t quite the same.

Speaking of dubious elements, I also recently stumbled across a spoof version of the periodic table (it comes in three parts: click here, here and here to see each section), which is worth a look if you fancy a break from the bench. This came from a BBC TV programme called ‘Look Around You’, which made fun of school science programmes from the 1970s. The rest of the web site is worth a look too – there are a few quizzes you can do, including one on iron. The answer to the question “The human body contains enough iron to make what?” was particularly illuminating.


Andrew Mitchinson (Associate Editor, Nature)

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