April 27, 2012 - Anniversary of the Discovery of Hahnium (a.k.a. Dubnium)


 You know how a person who makes a scientific discovery gets to name it?

Well, it doesn't always work out that way!

Albert Ghiorso at the Lawrence Laboratories of the University of California, Berkeley, discovered atomic element 105 (which means that it has 105 protons). The discovery was announced on this day in 1970, and Ghiorso and the other American physicists named it hahnium after German scientist Otto Hahn.

But it turned out that Russian scientists had made some of this heavy element, too, in Russia. Apparently they had named the element nielsbohrium after the Danish scientist Niels Bohr!

I guess it's kind of nice that Americans were promoting a German and Russians were promoting a Dane—they weren't just trying to promote their own country's reputation. What isn't so nice is that some scientists were writing papers about hahnium, and others were writing papers about nielsbohrium, and that was pretty confusing.

The international organization that rules on disputes of this kind decided to give element 105 the name unnilpentium as a temporary name, and eventually (in 1997) gave the element a completely different name: dubnium, after the town of Dubna, Russia, where the Russians had first produced it. The international organization pointed out that Lawrence Laboratories had already been recognized in several different element names (lawrencium, berkelium, californium, americium), and that Dubna had not been so recognized in the past.

So that's great—but think about this poor element! It's had so many different names:

Hahnium (Ha)
Nielsbohrium (Ns)
Unnilpentium (Unp)
Dubnium (Db)

By the way, dubnium doesn't exist in nature, and even when people create it, it disappears fairly quickly because it is radioactive, with a short 28-hour half life.

Do you know the Element Song?

Tom Lehrer wrote a song with the names of all the elements—but people have created some new ones since he wrote it. Watch at the end of the video as several elements, including dubnium (Db) pop up on the periodic table of the elements. If you want them, here are the lyrics.

Oh, and here is Harry Potter singing the element song. (Okay, you got me, it's really Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who played Harry Potter!)

Also on this date:

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