Friday, 23 March 2012

Hafnium, Danium, Celtium

What's in a name - Hafnium, Danium, and Celtium were all at some point names for atomic number 72.

Niels Bohr had developed a theory of atomic structure and did not believe the 1911 claim from George Urbain that Celtium was element 72 nor was Celtium a rare earth metal. Bohr hired Dirk Coster and and George de Hevesy who were trained in X-ray spectroscopy. These two were to look for an element in Zircon.

On Saturday, December 8, 1922, Coster and Hevesy determined that their x-ray analysis was without fault showing a unique element in their Zircon sample. They rushed the news to Bohr who was about to give a Nobel Prize speech in Stockholm after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Today, as a consequence of the great honour the Swedish Academy of Sciences has done me in awarding me this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for my work on the structure of the atom, it is my duty to give an account of the results of this work..."

At the end of his Nobel Prize address, Bohr made a public announcement of the findings of Coster and Hevesy. The discovery that would alter the Periodic Table of Elements at space 72 was published in 1923.

The controversy between Georges Urbain's Celtium and the atomic scientists was slowly put to rest.

Bohr thought Danium was a proper name for element 72 and his choice was accepted initiallly. Hevesy agreed with Bohr on the name but had been accustomed to calling his research a task of isolating hafnium which is how Coster wanted the potential discovery to be named. Hevesy had even prepared a publication on the topic of his discovery with Hafnium naming the newly discovered element. He rushed to change Hafnium to Danium but missed the printer's deadline. The release of the publication confused the readers and those interested in the periodic table and atomic science. Was this new element Celtium, Danium, or Hafnium?

After long debates Hafnium replaced both Danium and Celtium as the name of choice for atomic number 72. 

Hafnium is a derivative of the word Hafnia which is a Latin word for Copenhagen. Urbain's Celtium name reflects the Celt origins. Celt comes from Keltoi and from way back when Herodotus used this term to describe the people to the North of the Alps. Urbain was from France. Bohr meanwhile was from Copenhagen, Denmark, De Hevesy was born in Hungary. Coster was a Dutchman.  Danium is a more liberal name in that it encompasses all of Denmark but the final choice for 72 Hf remains and will always be Hafnium.


Resource - A Philatelic Ramble through Chemistry -

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Thanks for sharing