The Human Element

My last two posts have taken us through a couple of topics. Let’s review. First, we welcomed element 112, which was recently christened Copernicium. Then, we pondered the question of why the discoverers couldn’t give it the atomic symbol “Cp.” The answer was that it was already taken by the mysterious element Cassiopeium. Well, as you can see in this post’s doodle, Cassiopeium was what the German-speaking world called element 71 for about 40 years until the IUPAC stepped in to settle the debate, giving the element the name Lutetium (which, by the way, evokes the ancient name for the city that would become Paris, favoring the French claim). Why the dissension? A conflict over primacy of discovery caused the stir, and I find this kind of thing fascinating! You don’t even have to work in a lab to realize that beneath the objective Scientific Method there can seethe human passion, ambition, and pride. Science has its subjective, human side, and that’s a necessary element.

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