Elements No. 70, 71 and 72: Discoveries and Controversies

  • Helge Kragh
Part of the Chemists and Chemistry book series (CACH, volume 15)


The history of the discovery of the two last rare earth elements, ytterbium and lutetium, is a history of two priority disputes separated by a period of 16 years. The principal concern of the later and more bitter controversy was element 72, which is not a rare earth, but a zirconium homologue. Nonetheless, from a historical point of view the discovery of hafnium is an integral part of the discovery histories of the rare earths, which would be incomplete without hafnium. The two main contestants in the priority disputes, Georges Urbain and Carl Auer von Welsbach, were specialists in rare earth chemistry and highly regarded for their many contributions to this branch of chemistry. As an indication of their stature in the chemical community, both were nominated several times for a Nobel prize. Auer was nominated 10 times between 1918 and 1929, and Urbain 56 times between 1912 and 1936 (Crawford et al. 1987). All of Auer’s nominations came from either Germans or Austrians, and almost all of Urbain’s nominations were French. Their disagreements over the discoveries of elements did not, apparently, hurt their reputation. But it may well have contributed to the Swedish Nobel Committee’s decision not to award either of them the valued award.


Rare Earth Periodic System Atomic Weight International Committee Ammonium Oxalate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1905), “Vorläufiger Bericht über die Zerlegung des Ytterbiums in seine Elemente,” Anzeiger der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserlische Akademie der Wissenschaften 42, 122.Google Scholar
  2. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1906a), “Über die Elemente der Yttergruppe,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserlische Akademie der Wissenschaften 115, IIb, 737–47.Google Scholar
  3. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1906b), “Bemerkungen Ober die Anwendung der Funkenspectren bei Homogenitätsprüfungen,” [Liebig’s] Annalen der Chemie 351, 458–66Google Scholar
  4. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1907), “Die Zerlegung des Ytterbiums in seine Elemente,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserlische Akademie der Wissenschaften 116, IIb, 1425–69.Google Scholar
  5. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1910), “Zur Zerlegung des Ytterbiums,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserlische Akademie der Wissenschaften 118, IIb, 507–12.Google Scholar
  6. Auer von Welsbach, C. (1926), “Über einige Versuche zur Auffindung des Elementes Nr. 61,” Chemiker-Zeitung 50, 990.Google Scholar
  7. Bassett, H. (1892), “A tabular expression of the periodic relations of the elements,” Chemical News 65, 3–4, 19.Google Scholar
  8. Benedicks, C. (1904), “Über die Atomvolumina der seltenen Erden und deren Bedeutung für das periodische System,” Zeitschrift fur anorganische Chemie 39, 41–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bohr, N. (1922), “The structure of the atom,” pp. 7–44 in Nobel Lectures, Physics, 1922–1941 ( Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1965 ).Google Scholar
  10. Bohr, N. and Coster, D. (1922), “Röntgenspektren und periodisches System der Elemente,” Zeitschrift für Physik 12, 342–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brannigan, A. (1981), The Social Basis of Scientific Discoveries ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  12. Brante, T. and Elzinga, A. (1990), “Towards a theory of scientific controversies,” Science Studies 3: 2, 33–46.Google Scholar
  13. Brauner, B. (1902), “Über die Stellung der Elemente der seltenen Erden im periodischen System von Mendelejeff,” Zeitschriftfür anorganische Chemie 32, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brauner, B. (1908), “Über die Stellung der Elemente der seltenen Erden im periodischen System,” Zeitschriftfür Elektrochemie 14, 525–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brauner, B. (1923), “Hafnium or celtium,” Chemistry & Industry 42, 884–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clarke, F. W. et al. (1909), “Report of the Intemational Committee on Atomic Weights, 1909,” Journal of the American Chemical Society 31, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Coster, D. and Hevesy, G. (1923a), “On the missing element of atomic number 72,” Nature 111, 79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coster, D. and Hevesy, G. (1923b), “On celtium and hafnium,” Nature 111, 462–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crawford, E., Heilbron, J. L. and Ullrich, R. (1987), The Nobel Population 1901–1937 ( Berkeley: Office for History of Science and Technology ).Google Scholar
  20. Crookes, W. (1888), “Elements and meta-elements,” Journal of the Chemical Society 53, 487–504.Google Scholar
  21. D’Ans, J. (1931), “Carl Freiherr Auer von Welsbach,” Berichte der deutsche chemische Gesellschaft 64, 59–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dauvillier, A. (1922), “Sur les séries L du lutécium et de l’ytterbium et sur l’identification du celtium avec l’élément de nombre atomique 72,” Comptes Rendus 174, 1347–49.Google Scholar
  23. Demarçay, E. A. (1900), “Les spectres du samarium et du gadolinium,” Comptes Rendus 131, 387–90.Google Scholar
  24. Eder, J. M. (1915), “Der Bogenspektrum des Cassiopeiums, Aldebaraniums, Erbiums und des in weitere Elemente gespaltenen Thuliums,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften 124, IIa, 707–828.Google Scholar
  25. Eder, J. M. (1923), “Die Spektralanalyse der seltenen Erden,” Annalen der Physik 71, 12–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Exner, F. and Haschek, E. (1899), “Über die ultravioletten Funkenspektra der Elemente,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-natuHwissensthaft[ithe Klasse der kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften 108, IIa, 1123–51.Google Scholar
  27. Exner, F. and Haschek, E. (1904), We11enIängetabellenfür Spektralanalytische Untersuchungen auf Grund der Ultravioletten Bogenspektren der Elemente (Vienna: F. Deuticke).Google Scholar
  28. Exner, F. and Haschek, E. (1911), Spektraltafeln (Vienna: F. Deuticke).Google Scholar
  29. Figurowski, N. (1981), Die Entdeckung der chemischen Elemente und der Ursprung ihrer Namen (Köln: Aulis Verlag).Google Scholar
  30. Friman, E. (1916), “On the high-frequency spectra (L-series) of the elements lutecium-zinc,” Philosophical Magazine 32, 497.Google Scholar
  31. Hansen, H. M. and Werner, S. (1923), “On Urbain’s celtium lines,” Nature 111, 461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Heilbron, J. L. (1974), H. G. J. Moseley. The Life and Letters of an English Physicist 1887–1915 (Berkeley: University of California Press).Google Scholar
  33. Heimann, P. M. (1967), “Moseley and celtium: The search for a missing element,” Annals of Science 23, 249–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hevesy, G. (1925), “Recherches sur les propriétés du Hafnium,” Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab Meddelelser, VI: 7, 1–147.Google Scholar
  35. Hevesy, G. (1927a), Die Seltenen Erden vom Standpunkte des Atombaues (Berlin: Julius Springer).Google Scholar
  36. Hevesy, G. (1927b), Das Element Hafnium (Berlin: Julius Springer).Google Scholar
  37. Hönigschmid, O. et al. (1924), “Vierter Bericht der Deutschen Atomgewichtskommission,” Berichte der deutschen chemische Gesellschaft 57 B, I-XXXVI.Google Scholar
  38. Iddles, H. A. (1930), “The Charles James Hall of Chemistry of the University of New Hampshire,” Journal of Chemical Education 7, 812–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. JACS (1925), Journal of the American Chemical Society 47, 597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. JACS (1931), Journal of the American Chemical Society 53, 1627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Job, P. (1939), “Notice sur la Vie et les Travaux de Georges Urbain,” Bulletin de la Societé Chimique de France 6, 744–66.Google Scholar
  42. Karpenko, V. (1980), “The discovery of supposed new elements: two centuries of errors,” Ambix 27, 77–102.Google Scholar
  43. Kragh, H. (1979), “Niels Bohr’s second atomic theory,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 10, 123–86.Google Scholar
  44. Kragh, H. (1980), “Anatomy of a priority conflict: The case of element 72,” Centaurus 23, 275–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kragh, H. (1982), “Julius Thomsen and 19th-century speculations on the complexity of atoms,” Annals of Science 39, 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kragh, H. and Robertson, P. (1979), “on the discovery of element 72,” Journal of Chemical Education 56, 456–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kragh, H. (1987), An Introduction to the Historiography of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mellor, J. W. (1924), A Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry, Vol. 5 (London: Longmans, Green & Co.)Google Scholar
  49. Mel’nikov, V. P. (1983), “Some details in the prehistory of the discovery of element 72,” Centaurus 26, 317–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Meyer, S. (1908), “Magnetisiergszahlen seltener Erden,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse der kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften 117, IIa, 955–61.Google Scholar
  51. Nature (1914), Nature, 94, 353.Google Scholar
  52. Nishina, Y. (1925), “On the L-absorption spectra of the elements from Sn(50) to W(74) and their relation to the atomic constitution,” Philosophical Magazine 49, 521–37.Google Scholar
  53. Paneth, F. (1922), “Das periodische System der chemischen Elemente,” Ergebnisse der exakten Naturwissenschaften 1, 362–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Paneth, F. (1923), “Über das Element 72 (Hafnium),” Ergebnisse der exakten Naturwissenschaften 2, 163–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Partington, J. R. (1972), A History of Chemistry, Vol. 4 (London: Macmillan ).Google Scholar
  56. Perrin, J. et al. (1939), Hommage à Georges Urbain (Paris: Hermann & Cie.).Google Scholar
  57. Rancke-Madsen, E. (1975), “The discovery of an element,” Centaurus 19, 299–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Retgers, J. W. (1895), “Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Isomorphismus, XI,” Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie 16, 577–658.Google Scholar
  59. Rose, H. (1926), Das Hafnium (Braunschweig: Vieweg & Sohn).Google Scholar
  60. Rudorf, G. (1904), Das periodische System. Seine Geschichte und Bedeutungfür die chemische Systematik (Hamburg: L. Voss).Google Scholar
  61. Rutherford, E. (1922), “Identification of a missing element,” Nature 109, 781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Scott, A. (1923), “Isolation of the oxide of a new element,” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions 123, 311–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Spencer, J. F. (1919), The Metals of the Rare Earths (London: Longmans, Green and Co.).Google Scholar
  64. Thalén, T. R. (1881), “Sur les raies brillantes spectrales des métaux scandium, ytterbium, erbium et thulium,”Öftersigt af Kungliga Vetenskaps Akademiens Handlingar 38, no. 6, 13–21.Google Scholar
  65. Thomsen, J. (1895), “Classifications des corps simples,” Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Oversigt, 132–36.Google Scholar
  66. Urbain, G. (1898), Recherches sur la Séparation des Terres Rares (University of Paris dissertation).Google Scholar
  67. Urbain, G. (1907), “Un nouvel élément: le lutécium, résultant du dédoublement de l’ytterbium de Marignac,” Comptes Rendus 145, 759–62.Google Scholar
  68. Urbain, G. (1908a), “Sur le lutécium et le néoytterbium,” Comptes Rendus 146, 406–08.Google Scholar
  69. Urbain, G. (1908b), “Zur Zerlegung des Ytterbiums in seine Komponenten,” Chemiker-Zeitung 32, 730.Google Scholar
  70. Urbain, G. (1909a), “Europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, neoytterbium und lutetium,” Chemiker-Zeitung 33, 745–46.Google Scholar
  71. Urbain, G. (1909b), “Révision des poids atomiques des terres rares,” Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France 5, 133–72.Google Scholar
  72. Urbain, G. (1910), “Lutetium and neoytterbium or cassiopeium and aldebaranium,” Zeitschriftfür anorganische Chemie 68, 236–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Urbain, G. (1911), “Sur un nouvel élément qui accompagne le lutécium et le scandium dans les terres de gadolinite: le celtium,” Comptes Rendus 152, 141–43.Google Scholar
  74. Urbain, G. (1922), “Les numéros atomiques du néo-ytterbium, du lutécium et du celtium,” Comptes Rendus 174, 1349–51.Google Scholar
  75. Urbain, G. and Boulanger, C. (1922), “Sur la composition et les caractères chimiques de la thortveitite de Madagascar,” Comptes Rendus 174, 1442–43.Google Scholar
  76. Urbain, G. (1925a), “Twenty five years of research on the yttrium earths,” Chemical Reviews 1, 143–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Urbain, G. (1925b), “Discours sur les éléments chimiques et les atomes. Hommage au Professeur Bohuslav Brauner,” Recoil des Travaux Chimiques des Pays-Bas 44, 281–95.Google Scholar
  78. Van Spronsen, J. W. (1969), The Periodic System of Chemical Elements: A History of the First Hundred Years (Amsterdam: Elsevier).Google Scholar
  79. Weeks, M. E. and Leicester, H. M. (1968), Discovery of the Elements (7th edn., Easton, Pa.: Journal of Chemical Education).Google Scholar
  80. Wenzel, F. (1909), “Zur Spaltung des Ytterbiums,” Zeitschrift für anorganische Chemie 64, 119–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helge Kragh
    • 1
  1. 1.Roskilde University CentreRoskildeDenmark

Personalised recommendations