Physics in Perspective

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 48–62 | Cite as

The Search for Transuranium Elements and the Discovery of Nuclear Fission

  • Ruth Lewin Sime

Abstract.

The synthesis of new, artificial elements beyond uranium was at the cutting-edge of physical research in the 1930s, and nearly half a dozen transuranium elements were reported between 1934 and 1938. Nuclear physicists and radiochemists collaborated closely, but each field introduced fundamental assumptions that proved to be false: that nuclear changes would always be small, and that transuranium elements would resemble transition elements chemically. With its surprise ending in the discovery of nuclear fission, the misguided transuranium project can be viewed as an example of the illogical progress of scientific discovery. It is also an example of an interdisciplinary collaboration that was flawed yet crucial, for although chemists and physicists both contributed to the delay in discovering fission, their collaboration was essential in leading them to it in the end.

Key words. History of science, transuranium elements, nuclear fission, periodic system, nuclear physics, radiochemistry, Enrico Fermi, Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann, Niels Bohr, Philip H. Abelson, Glenn T. Seaborg. 

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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Lewin Sime
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemistry, Sacramento City, College Sacramento, CA 95822-1386, USA, e-mail: rodsime@csus.eduUS

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