Elements 104 and 105 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series are rutherfordium and dubnium. Both are synthetic elements, and American and Russian scientists squabbled over who discovered them and what to call them.
Rutherfordium was the first of these two elements to be discovered in 1964. Both Soviet and American teams laid claim to be the first to have convincingly produced atoms of element 104. The Americans proposed the name ‘rutherfordium’, after famed physicist Ernest Rutherford, while the Soviets favoured the name ‘kurchatovium’ after Igor Kurchatov, the nuclear physicist who worked on Soviet atomic bomb projects.
Ultimately, IUPAC, the body that rules over element discovery priority, decided that there was sufficient evidence that both groups had produced the element, and awarded the discovery jointly. A series of arguments over names followed (at one point, the name of the subsequent element, dubnium, was suggested), before eventually, IUPAC settled on the American suggestion.
Similar arguments were had over dubnium’s discovery and name. Discovered in 1968, its discovery was again recognised as being sufficiently evidenced by both American and Soviet scientists. A whole host of names were suggested by both teams, including nielsbohrium, hahnium and joliotium, before IUPAC eventually ruled that the name ‘dubnium’ should be used. This recognises the location of the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, where much work on superheavy element creation was carried out. This was in part a compromise for American suggestions being used as names for other elements, as we’ll see later in the series.
Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.