Synthetic Element - History


The first element discovered through synthesis was technetium—its discovery being definitely confirmed in 1936. This discovery filled a gap in the periodic table, and the fact that no stable isotopes of technetium exist explains its natural absence on Earth (and the gap). With the longest-lived isotope of technetium, Tc-98, having a 4.2 million year half-life, no technetium remains from the formation of the Earth. Only minute traces of technetium occur naturally in the Earth's crust—as a spontaneous fission product of uranium-238 or by neutron capture in molybdenum ores—but technetium is present naturally in red giant stars.

The first discovered synthetic elements were einsteinium and fernium in 1952, by a team of scientists led by Albert Ghiorso in 1952 while studying the radioactive debris from the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb. The isotopes discovered were einsteinium-253, with a half-life of 20.5 days, and fermium-255, with a half-life of about 20 hours.

The discoveries of mendelevium, lawrencium, and nobelium followed. Then, during the height of the cold war, the Soviet Union and United States independently discovered rutherfordium and dubnium. The naming and credit for discovery of those elements remained unresolved for many years but eventually shared credit was recognized by IUPAC/IUPAP in 1992. In 1997, IUPAC decided to give dubnium its current name honoring the city of Dubna where the Russian team made their discoveries since American-chosen names had already been used for many existing synthetic elements, while the name rutherfordium (chosen by the American team) was accepted for element 104.

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