Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Element of the Month: Meitnerium!

October's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 278ish amu
Melting Point: nobody knows
Boiling Point: nobody knows

After several months without Elements -- and yet with so many Elements that still need months! -- we return to the fray with Meitnerium. It is an unfortunate choice, in that it is a highly fakey Element. The synthetics don't really have much personality, since they don't really exist in a meaningful way, and I kind of feel like I've said all I have to say about them. But we'll try to be brave, here.

Don't feel bad if you don't know about Meitnerium. Neither does the spellchecker.  On the Sporcle Elements Quiz, a favorite dorky pastime of mine, it is the second least identified Element, trailing only Roentgenium. Unless you are fairly youngish and went to a well-funded high school, you probably never even saw it on the periodic table. It was only synthesized in 1982, and the usual international wrangling over naming rights was only resolved in 1997.

The Centerfold!
Just kidding, of course.  This is actually Iridium.

The Wiki says that Meitnerium is the only element named specifically after a non-mythological woman. Now, if you're like me, you're all like "That's BULLSHIT, man, what about Curium?!?" Well, I guess that's what the word "specifically" is in there for, as it turns out that Curium is named in honor of Pierre and Marie Curie both. Yeah, whatever. Pierre Curie. Who's he?

Who, for that matter, is Meitner? Lise Meitner was part of the three-person research team, along with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, who discovered nuclear fission. Modern thinking, at least as expressed in internet articles about Lise Meitner, seems to hold that she was the real brains of the outfit, but fans of Hahn or Strassmann might debate that. There is a general consensus that she was screwed out of the Nobel Prize because she was a girl, but hopefully that was made up for by an almost endless list of other accolades that were heaped on her in her long and productive late career. And hell, getting a fakey Element named after yourself is really the icing on the atomic cake.

I would try to figure out what non-non-mythological woman or women have an Element named after them, but it's getting kind of late. How about one of you all figure it out and post it in the comments.

"Meitnerium," by roberthirst-art on


mrs.5000 said...

Why, that would be niobium, daughter of tantalum!

Morgan said...

Ceres is a Roman goddess of fertility, although Cerium was named specifically after the then-asteroid-now-dwarf-planet Ceres instead of its mythological namesake.

Europium is another one like this, as it is named after Europe which was named after a fictional princess famous for being kidnapped by Zeus, who was disguised as a bull at the time.

A third one of this sort is Iridium, although with the mythological namesake possibly has more of a claim here. The Latin noun "iris" means rainbow, and Iris was the Greek goddess of rainbows.

Similar to Cerium, Palladium was named after the astroid Pallas which was named after Pallas Athena, a Greek goddess of some fame.

Phosphorus deserves special mention for being even more tenuously connected to a goddess. Phosphorus was an ancient name for what is now called Venus, and Venus is named after a Roman goddess.

Selenium comes close, for being named after moon-goddess Selene as well as the Greek word for moon, instead of being named after the moon only, as does Tellurium, which is similarly both named after the Latin for Earth and Mother Earth.

As Mrs. 5000 said, Niobium is specifically named after a mythological woman. Another one that works is Vanadium, from Vanadís, an alternate name for the Norse goddess Freyja. I believe those two are the only ones that can claim to be specifically and singularly named after a non-non-mythological woman.

Ben said...

Nice write-up, Morgan!

Michael5000 said...

Thank you, Morgan. That was very comprehensive.