Discovery of the Elements: Geography & Fame

Jan Brueghel the Younger and Hendrick van Balen, An Allegory of the Four Elements

Jan Brueghel the Younger and Hendrick van Balen, An Allegory of the Four Elements

The January talk will be given by Chick Wilson, Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Science and Chair in Physical Chemistry at the University of Bath.

Poster for Chick Wilson

Poster for Chick Wilson

We scientists like to think of ourselves as rational, analytical and fair, so one would expect this to be reflected in some of the highest profile areas, such as the naming of the elements that underpin all real-word substances.  Well…. I have issues with some of the element names, with clear inequities related to geography and fame (and related to this, in the ultimate scientists’ “fame”, the award of a Nobel Prize).

This discussion cannot hope to cover the whole story of element discovery, whose evolution from the original four “Elements” (air, fire, water earth), to the understanding of the true nature of the many elements we now know to make up matter, is long, complex, intriguing and filled with the sort of excitements, claim, counter-claim and controversy as would make a mini-soap opera of its own.  Instead we focus on just a couple of geographical points, and a few pertinent points about fame, recognition, inequity and missed opportunity about which I feel strongly (and have done for 40 years or so).