IYPT 2019 Elements 108 & 109: Hassium and Meitnerium

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Elements 108 and 109 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series are hassium and meitnerium. The second and third of a short series of superheavy elements discovered by German scientists, one has surprising predicted properties, while the other rights a Nobel Prize wrong.

Hassium, element 108 in the periodic table, continues the trend of the superheavy elements becoming increasingly fleeting. Its most stable isotope has a half-life of just 16 seconds. Though it’s only ever been made in minute quantities, calculations predict it should have a density more than twice that of the current densest element in the periodic table, osmium.

Meitnerium has a different distinction. As of 2019, it’s the only element in the periodic table to be named solely after non-mythological woman. Even Marie Curie, the most well-known woman in chemistry history, only had an element jointly named after her (curium is also named after her husband, Pierre Curie).

The name of meitnerium comes from Austrian physicist, Lise Meitner. She discovered nuclear fission when working with Otto Hahn in the late 1930s; however, when a Nobel Prize was awarded in 1944, Hahn was named amongst the recipients while Meitner was snubbed. This was, in part, because a paper Hahn and a colleague had published on their findings had not acknowledged Meitner’s role in the discovery.

Though Meitner was left out of the Nobel Prize award, she arguably one-upped Hahn in the end. Hahnium was a name considered for element 105 and subsequently shuffled to one or two others during the naming disputes over those elements. However, it was ultimately dropped as a name, so Hahn is not immortalised in the periodic table – but Meitner is.

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.