Historical Introduction

  • C. H. Evans
Part of the Biochemistry of the Elements book series (BOTE, volume 8)


In the summer of 1787, Karl Arrhenius, a lieutenant in the Swedish army, chanced upon a new mineral, which he named “ytterbite” after the nearby Swedish town of Ytterby. This book is a descendent of that discovery, which foreshadowed the identification of a new group of elements, the rare earths or lanthanides. (For a discussion of nomenclature, see Section 2.1.) The intervening 200 years have been colorful ones. Owing to the close chemical similarities between the members of the lanthanide series, they resisted easy purification and separation from one another. Numerous misidentifications, false claims, and counterclaims are scattered through the pages of this chapter of chemical history. For a number of years, the existence of the lanthanides challenged the accuracy of Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements. Taken together, there is enough material here for an historian of science to write an instructive book on the identification of the lanthanides in its own right. For reasons to be discussed below, the biochemical properties of the lanthanides have received increasing attention over the last three decades or so. The brief historical orientation presented below sketches the intellectual route from Arrhenius’s new mineral (Arrhenius, 1788) to this book.


Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Lanthanum Oxide Historical Introduction Lanthanide Element Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Probe 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. H. Evans
    • 1
  1. 1.The Ferguson LaboratoryUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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