Elements 106 and 107 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series are seaborgium and bohrium. Once again, these elements were subject to naming squabbles and both ended up being named after famous scientists – though not without some controversy.
Element 106 was discovered in 1974 by US scientists. After much deliberation, the team agreed they wanted to name the element after one of their pioneers in superheavy element synthesis, Glenn Seaborg. However, IUPAC ruled that, as Seaborg was still alive, the element could not be named after him, as no element had been named after a living person previously.
This didn’t go down well with the US team, who accused IUPAC of infringing on the rights of the discoverers to name an element. The American Chemical Society approved the American and German suggested names for elements 104 to 109 in protest. Eventually, IUPAC relented and approved the suggestions (with the exception of that for element 105), making Glenn Seaborg the first living person to have an element named after them.
By comparison, bohrium’s route to naming was far less circuitous. The original suggested name by the German discoverers was ‘nielsbohrium’, after Danish physicist Niels Bohr, but this was rejected by IUPAC on the grounds that no previous element had been named after a scientist’s full name instead. They counter-proposed that the element should be named bohrium. Though the German scientists expressed concern that this might lead to confusion with boron, in particular between the bohrate and borate ions, the name bohrium was allowed to stand.
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.