Reporting the discovery of new chemical elements: working in different worlds, only 25 years apart

  • K. Brad WrayEmail author
  • Line Edslev Andersen


In his account of scientific revolutions, Thomas Kuhn suggests that after a revolutionary change of theory, it is as if scientists are working in a different world. In this paper, we aim to show that the notion of world change is insightful. We contrast the reporting of the discovery of neon in 1898 with the discovery of hafnium in 1923. The one discovery was made when elements were identified by their atomic weight; the other discovery was made after scientists came to classify elements by their atomic number. By considering two instances of the reporting of the discovery of a new chemical element 25 years apart, we argue that it becomes clear how chemists can be said to have been responding to different worlds as a result of the change in the concept of a chemical element. They (1) saw, (2) did, and (3) reported different things as they conducted their research on the new chemical elements.


Chemical element Discovery Thomas Kuhn Neon Hafnium World changes Theory change 



We thank Eric Scerri for feedback on an earlier draft.


Funding was provided by Aarhus Universitets Forskningsfond (Grant No: AUFF-E-2017-FLS-7-3).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Science StudiesAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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