Element naming controversy

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The names for the chemical elements 104 to 106 were the subject of a major controversy starting in the 1960s, described by some nuclear chemists as the Transfermium Wars[1][2] because it concerned the elements subsequent to fermium (element 100).

This controversy arose due to disputes between American scientists and Soviet scientists as to which had first isolated these elements. The final resolution of this controversy in 1997 also decided the names of elements 107 to 109.

Contents

Controversy

By convention, naming rights for newly discovered chemical elements go to their discoverers. However, for the elements 104, 105 and 106 there was a controversy between a Soviet laboratory and an American laboratory regarding which one had discovered them. Both parties suggested their own names for elements 104 and 105, not recognizing the other's name.

The American name of seaborgium for element 106 was also objectionable to some, because it referred to American chemist Glenn T. Seaborg who was still alive at the time this name was proposed.[3] (Einsteinium and fermium had also been proposed as names of new elements while Einstein and Fermi were still living, but only made public after their deaths, due to Cold War secrecy.)

The USSR wanted to name element 104 after Igor Kurchatov, father of the Soviet atomic bomb, which was another reason the name was objectionable to the Americans.

Opponents

The two principal groups which were involved in the conflict over element naming were:

and, as a kind of arbiter,

  • The IUPAC Commission on Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry, which introduced its own proposal to the IUPAC General Assembly.

The German group at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) in Darmstadt, who had (undisputedly) discovered elements 107 to 109, were dragged into the controversy when the Commission suggested that the name "hahnium", proposed for element 105 by the Americans, be used for GSI's element 108 instead.

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