Chapter 12: Political elements

Kayla Beaver

Synopsis

There is a social history of the elements, not only as scientific history. Politics showed how chemists were only concerned about their lab work, distant from the world around them. The quality of the careers of many chemists, especially those of women chemists, were impaired because of politics. Political arguing lead to chemists not receiving the honor of the Nobel Prize for what they had discovered. Political rifts were formed between many over the line between chemistry and physics. Ownership by the chemists that discovered or contributed to the discovery of elements was often debated and incorrect due to politics. Thus, portraying the role of politics used in revealing the elements on the periodic table.

In Chapter 15, the seven elements: Curium, Polonium, Lutetium, Hafnium, Protactinium, Lanthanum, and Meitnerium are discussed. These are called the political elements because acknowledgement to the chemists that discovered them was predominately based on politics.

Curium

Symbol: Cm

Atomic number: 96

Atomic mass: 247

It is classified as a transition metal (Actinide series)

Located in period 7

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^10 6p^6 7s^2 5f^8


Founded by Glenn Seaborg and his crew(Ralph James and Albert Ghiorso) in Berkeley, California, element ninety- six was named Curium in Marie Curie's honor(Chapter 12, page 206).


Curium can be made in very small amounts by the neutron bombardment of plutonium in a nuclear reactor. Minute amounts may exist in natural deposits of uranium. Only a few grams are produced each year (Royal Society of, 2016).


Used to provide power to electrical equipment used on space missions, and also used in satellite technology. It is toxic due to its radioactivity (Royal Society of, 2016)

Polonium

Symbol: Po

Atomic number: 84

Atomic mass: 209

It is classified as a metalloid

Located in period 6, group 16

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^10 6p^4


Founded by Marie and Pierre Curie, Marie called the first element they isolated polonium — from the Latin for Poland, Polonia — after her nonexistent homeland(Chapter 12, page 207).


Polonium is a very rare natural element. It is found in uranium ores but it is uneconomical to extract it. It is obtained by bombarding bismuth-209 with neutrons to give bismuth-210, which then decays to form polonium.


As a metal, polonium is useless. It decays so quickly. It is toxic. It can be mixed or alloyed with beryllium to provide a source of neutrons. Polonium is an alpha-emitter, and is used as an alpha-particle source in the form of a thin film on a stainless steel disc. These are used in antistatic devices and for research purposes. A single gram of polonium will reach a temperature of 500°C as a result of the alpha radiation emitted. This makes it useful as a source of heat for space equipment. (Royal Society of, 2016).


‘Lunokhod’ rovers were the first rovers to explore the moon’s surface, and were powered by polonium. Of all the countries in the world, only Russia, the many-time conqueror of Poland, produces all the commercially polonium in the world (Royal Society of, 2016).

Lutetium

Symbol: Lu

Atomic number: 71

Atomic mass: 174.97

It is classified as a transition metal (Lanthanide series)

Located in period 6

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^1


Founded by Georges Urbain in 1907, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. Named after the city of Paris, Latin name ‘Lutetia’(Royal Society of, 2016).


In common with many other lanthanides, the main source of lutetium is the mineral monazite. It is extracted, with difficulty, by reducing the anhydrous fluoride with calcium metal(Royal Society of, 2016).


Used little outside of research. One of its few commercial uses is as a catalyst for cracking hydrocarbons in oil refineries. Has a low toxicity(Royal Society of, 2016).

Hafnium

Symbol: Hf

Atomic number: 72

Atomic mass: 178.49

It is classified as a transition metal

Located in period 6, group 4

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^2


Founded by Gyorgy Hevesy and Dirk Coster at the University of Copenhagen on their first attempt. They named it hafnium, from Hafhia, the Latin name for Copenhagen(Chapter 12, page 213).


Most zirconium ores contain around 5% hafnium. The metal can be prepared by reducing hafnium tetrachloride with sodium or magnesium(Royal Society of, 2016).


Hafnium oxide is used as an electrical insulator in microchips, while hafnium catalysts have been used in polymerisation reactions. Hafnium is a good absorber of neutrons and is used to make control rods, such as those found in nuclear submarines. It also has a very high melting point and because of this is used in plasma welding torches. Hafnium has been successfully alloyed with several metals including iron, titanium and niobium. It has a low toxicity(Royal Society of, 2016).


In perhaps the least-sweat discovery in periodic table history. It was found in a zirconium mineral, a Norwegian zircon, but it had proved very difficult to separate it from zirconium and this explained why hafnium remained undiscovered for so long(Royal Society of, 2016).

Protactinium

Symbol: Pa

Atomic number: 91

Atomic mass: 231.04

It is classified as a transition metal (Actinide series)

Located in period 7

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^10 6p^6 7s^2 5f^5


Founded by Polish chemist Kazimierz Fajans. He had detected only short-lived atoms of the element in 1913, so he named it "brevium". Luis Meitner and Otto Hahn realized in 1917 that most atoms of it actually live hundreds of thousands of years, which made "brevium" sound a little stupid. They rechristened it protactinium, or "parent of actinium," the element into which it (eventually) decayed(Chapter 12, page 216).


Small amounts of protactinium are found naturally in uranium ores. It is also found in spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors, from which it is extracted(Royal Society of, 2016).


Used little outside of research. Protactinium is toxic due to its radioactivity(Royal Society of, 2016).

Lanthanum

Symbol: La

Atomic number: 57

Atomic mass: 138.91

It is classified as a transition metal

Located in period 6, group 3

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^1


Founded by Carl Gustav Mosander at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. Named from the Greek 'lanthanein', meaning to lie hidden(Royal Society of, 2016).


Lanthanum is found in ‘rare earth’ minerals, principally monazite (25% lanthanum) and bastnaesite (38% lanthanum). Ion-exchange and solvent extraction techniques are used to isolate the ‘rare earth’ elements from the minerals. Lanthanum metal is usually obtained by reducing the anhydrous fluoride with calcium(Royal Society of, 2016).


Lanthanum metal has no commercial uses. However, its alloys have a variety of uses. A lanthanum-nickel alloy is used to store hydrogen gas for use in hydrogen-powered vehicles. Lanthanum is also found in the anode of nickel metal hydride batteries used in hybrid cars. Lanthanum is an important component of mischmetal alloy (about 20%). The best-known use for this alloy is in ‘flints’ for cigarette lighters. Both the element and its compounds are moderately toxic(Royal Society of, 2016).


Lanthanum rapidly tarnishes in air and burns easily when ignited. The ion La3+ is used as a biological tracer for Ca2+, and radioactive lanthanum has been tested for use in treating cancer(Royal Society of, 2016).

Meitnerium

Symbol: Mt

Atomic number: 109

Atomic mass: 268

It is classified as an unknown chemical property

Located in period 7, group 9

Electron configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 6s^2 4f^14 5d^10 6p^6 7s^2 5f^14 6d^7


Founded by Peter Armbruster, Gottfried Münzenberg, and colleagues at the German nuclear research facility, (GSI)(Royal Society of, 2016). Named after the physicist, Lise Meitner(Chapter 12, page 221).


Fewer than 10 atoms of meitnerium have ever been made, and it will probably never be isolated in observable quantities. It is made by bombarding bismuth with iron atoms(Royal Society of, 2016).


Used only in research as of now. It has no known biological role.

Meitnerium is a highly radioactive metal, of which only a few atoms have ever been made(Royal Society of, 2016).

Summary:

In the book, The Disappearing Spoon, the seven elements of chapter 12 embody our frustrations and failures in the field of politics. What started off in many cases as scientific arguments about who claimed to deserve recognition for a discovery became political disputes about territory and boundaries. Politics did not make it easy to receive credit or be awarded for your findings. These political elements were very important discoveries, and impacted scientific research greatly. The world would not be the same without these seven elements.

Citations:

Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Curium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/96/curium


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Polonium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/84/polonium


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Lutetium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/71/lutetium


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Hafnium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/72/hafnium


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Protactinium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/91/protactinium


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Lanthanum. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/57/lanthanum


Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table: Meitnerium. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/109/meitnerium