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A Tale of Seven Elements

Popular Science
  • A tale of the discovery of seven particularly exotic elements
  • Deals with significant historical and philosophical issues associated with the discovery of these elements

By: Eric Scerri(Author), Oliver Sacks(Preface By)

270 pages, 30 b/w illustrations, tables

Oxford University Press USA

Hardback | Jul 2013 | #199235 | ISBN-13: 9780195391312
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £13.49 $17/€15 approx

About this book

In 1913, English physicist Henry Moseley established an elegant method for 'counting' the elements. Soon afterwards, it became clear that there were precisely seven elements missing from the periodic table – those that had yet to be isolated among the 92 naturally occurring elements from hydrogen (#1) to uranium (#92). In A Tale of Seven Elements, Eric Scerri will present the discovery of those seven elements, five of which are radioactive and three or possibly four of were first isolated by women.

A Tale of Seven Elements covers a period roughly spanning the two world wars, beginning with the discovery of protactinium in 1917 and ending with that of promethium in 1945. In some cases, the state of war directly influenced attempts to isolate some of the seven elements – this is true of protactinium, when, in 1916, its discoverer, Lise Meitner, wrote of the problems she encountered in purchasing even the most basic items of laboratory equipment. During the second war, the discovery of nuclear fission, also by Meitner and her associates, quickly led to the development of the nuclear weapons program and the associated technologies of particle accelerators. Clearly, scientific discoveries occur within a social and political context and the discovery of the seven elements is no exception. A Tale of Seven Elements draws together for the first time the fascinating stories of the discoveries of these seven elements, placing them in historical context.

"Eric Scerri offers us a fascinating account of the discovery of these seven elements. Author of The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance (2007), Scerri is superbly qualified for this task: chemist, philosopher of science and historian, he is the foremost contemporary analyst of the periodic table. [...] As a professional historian of chemistry who thought that he already knew these stories, I was surprised by how much novel and interesting material Scerri has unearthed in this admirable book. He offers corrections to many long-standing textbook errors, both historical and scientific, and presents a fresh, thoroughly researched understanding of a complex web of interacting research during a period of about 30 years [...] chemists, historians and philosophers of science, as well as educated laypeople, will unquestionably find this book an entertaining and highly instructive read."
– Alan Rocke, Times Higher Education


Preface: What constitutes the discovery of an element?

Chapter 1. Dalton, to the Discovery of the Periodic System
Chapter 2. van den Broek, Moseley and the missing seven elements.
Chapter 3. Element 91, protactinium
Chapter 4. Element 72, hafnium
Chapter 5. Element 75, rhenium
Chapter 6. Element 43, technetium
Chapter 7. Element 87, francium
Element 8. Element 85, astatine
Chapter 9. Element 61, promethium

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Dr. Eric Scerri is a leading philosopher of science specializing in the history and philosophy of the periodic table. He is also the founder and editor in chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry and has been a full-time lecturer at UCLA for the past ten years where he regularly teaches classes of 350 chemistry students as well as classes in history and philosophy of science. He is the author of The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance.

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