Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Studying the elements...

For soils class we have to know many of the elements, and memorize parts of the Periodic Table. As I'm wandering about the elemental symbols, I notice 3 at the bottom in a row- Uranium, Neptonium and Plutonium. Hmmm, very interesting that these were named in order after the last 3 planets of our solar system, don't you think? There must be a story here....

In the ancient world, 7 elements were known, and seven planets. These first elements were associated with the planets- Gold/Sun, Silver/Moon, Mars/Iron, Mercury/Mercury, Jupiter/Tin, Venus/Copper, Saturn/Lead.

Turns out that Uranium, pictured above as Uranocircite crystal, was discovered from mined ore in Germany in the 1789. Martin Klaproth had already discovered another element, Tellurium, and with the first seven planets taken, he noticed no element was named after Earth. So he named the element with the Latin Tellus or "earth". When he discovered Uranium , at first he wanted to name this new element after himself, Klaprothium, but fortunately resisted the temptation and decided to name it after the next available planet, Uranus, which had been discovered just 8 years earlier by William Hershel. Hershel was a musician who was both the director of the orchestra in Bath, England and an accomplished astronomer. He named his planet after Urania, the muse of astronomy, according to some sources, or Uranus, the god of the sky. But whichever it was, it just so happens that both Uranus and Uranium were the last planet and element, respectively to be discovered for quite a few years.

Neptunium was made in 1940 at the Berkeley Laboratory (UC Berkeley) by the irradiation of Uranium with neutrons. Apparently between 1934 and 1938 many teams of scientists were trying the same experiment, and wherever it was successful, they gave the resulting substances names- Ausonium in Italy, after the ancient name for Italy, Bohemium for Bohemia in Germany and Sequanium in France, after the Latin name for the Seine. But all these "new" discoveries turned out to be false elements, in fact being only mostly Barium and Krypton. Finally Edwin M McMillan and Philip Abelsonmade the discovery in Berkeley, and named it after the next planet of the solar system. And as an aside, Neptune may be the Roman god of the sea, but the Greek god of the sea is Poseiden, and that's what the Greeks call it... Poseidonio!

Finally we come to Plutonium, first prepared in 1940-41 again at Berkeley Labs by bombarding Uranium with deutrons. Pluto, the planet, was discovered in 1930 and named after the Greek god of the underworld. About the naming, one of the original scientists, Glenn T. Seaborg said:
"In that first report we decided to name the element Plutonium, just like Urianium is named after Uranus... We should have named it "Plutium" but we liked Plutonium better. It just sounded better. And the symbol obviously should have been Pl, but we liked Pu better...." (heh heh)

Turns out that the report was held in secret until the end of WWII and finally published in 1948. This is when the names of both Neptunium and Plutonium were first revealed to the world.

So there ya go... maybe I'm the only person on earth who thinks this is facinating... lol... but somehow I don't think so...

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