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The Periodic Table of Elemental Discoveries

A periodic table showing which countries are associated with which elemental discoveries

smithsonian.com

Click to legibilize. A periodic table showing where the discoveries of the different elements were carried out. Photo: Jamie Gallagher

In this wonderful riff on the periodic table, science communicator and PhD student Jamie Gallagher mapped out where the scientists were working when they made their discoveries. Since Lothar Meyer and Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev independently laid down the ground work for the modern periodic table, independent researchers and persistent teams have pushed to fill it—a quest that continues to this day.

“Before written history, people were aware of some of the elements in the periodic table. Elements such as gold (Au), silver (Ag), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), tin (Sn), and mercury (Hg),” were the elements of antiquity, according to Brewton-Parker College‘s history of the elements. In the mid-17th century the search for the myriad elements we know today really got going with Hennig Brands’ discovery of phosphorus.

Every element has a story, and talking to Smart News Gallagher recounted one of his favorite tales of elemental discovery:

One of my favourites has to be polonium, though, the first element to be discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie. They were working in a modified shed with substances so dangerously radioactive their notes are still too active to be handled safely.

Working together they isolated this element and later named it Polonium after Marie’s home country. (A country, I may add, that turned her away from her pursuit of education as she was a politically interested female). It was her hope that by naming the element after Poland she could generate interested in the independence (from Germany) campaign for the country. Yet the victory comes in under the French flag where the work was carried out.

It remains to this day the only element to be named after a political cause, and a wonderful tribute to a phenomenal woman.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Meet the New Elements
The Race for Element 113 Might Be Won
Six Secrets of Polonium
117th Element “Ununseptium” Confirmed, Will Get Name Not Stolen From Avatar

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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