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Element naming controversy

The names for the chemical elements 104 to 109 were the subject of a major controversy starting in the 1960s which was finally resolved in 1997.

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The controversy

At issue was the convention that elements be named by their discoverers. This resulted in a nationalistic dispute between laboratories attempting to synthesize the elements first, thus earning naming rights for having "discovered" them. Therefore, in this context discovery is synonymous with first synthesis. The controversy arose when multiple groups claimed to have discovered the same elements. Usually the Russians were the first to make the claim, and the Americans would dispute, claiming the research could not be independently verified.


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

  • An American group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
  • A Russian group at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna.
  • A German group at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) in Darmstadt.
  • The IUPAC Commission on Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry, which introduced its own proposal to the IUPAC General Assembly.

Berkeley proposal

The preferred names for the elements by the American group were:

104 - rutherfordium
105 - hahnium
106 - seaborgium

Dubna proposal

The preferred names for the elements by the Russian group were:

104 - kurchatovium
105 - nielsbohrium

Darmstadt proposal

The preferred names for the elements by the German group were([2]):

107 - nielsbohrium
108 - hassium
109 - meitnerium

IUPAC proposal

Element 104 was to be named after Igor Kurchatov, father of the Russian atomic bomb, and this was one reason the name was objectionable to the Americans (yet Americans who worked on the atomic bomb had elements named for them). The American name to 106 was objectionable to some because Glenn T. Seaborg was still alive and hence his name could not be used for an element in accordance with the IUPAC rules. While it is commonly stated that seaborgium is the only element to have been named after a living person, this is not entirely accurate. Both einsteinium and fermium were proposed as names of new elements discovered by Albert Ghiorso, Seaborg and the other American co-discoverers of those elements while Fermi and Einstein were still living. The discovery of these elements and their names were kept secret under Cold War era nuclear secrecy rules, however, and thus the names were not known by the public or the broader scientific community until after the deaths of Fermi and Einstein.

In 1994, the IUPAC Commission on Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry proposed the following names

104 - dubnium
105 - joliotium
106 - rutherfordium
107 - bohrium
108 - hahnium
109 - meitnerium

This attempted to resolve the dispute by replacing the name for 104 with one honoring the Dubna research center, and not naming 106 after Seaborg.


This solution drew objections from the American Chemical Society (ACS) on the grounds that the right of the American group to propose the name for element 106 was not in question and that group should have the right to name the element whatever it wanted to. Indeed, IUPAC decided that the credit for the discovery of element 106 should be shared between Berkeley and Dubna but the Dubna group had not come forward with a name. In addition, given that many American books had already used rutherfordium and hahnium for 104 and 105, the ACS objected to those names being used for other elements.

Seaborg commented wryly at a talk in 1995 that "There has been some reluctance on the part of the Commission for Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to accept the name because I'm still alive and they can prove it, they say." [1]


Finally in 1997, the following names were agreed on the 39th IUPAC General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland

104 - rutherfordium
105 - dubnium
106 - seaborgium
107 - bohrium
108 - hassium
109 - meitnerium

In 1999, Glenn T. Seaborg died, still disputing the name change for #105 and adamant about it remaining known as hahnium. His reason concerning Dubna in Russia was that he believed that they had made a false claim about discovering the element for which they had been credited. When the Dubna group finally did release some additional data on the experiment, Seaborg claimed that it was a misreading of the decay pattern of their product. Even then, the Dubna group still refused to remove their claim. Some people in the Berkeley group and some others still refer to it as hahnium.

See also


  1. ^ An Early History of LNBL by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg [1]
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Element_naming_controversy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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