rutherfordium / kurchatovium

The discovery of element 104 was controversial, with competing groups from the US and the Soviet Union both claiming to have discovered it at the height of the Cold War. Researchers at the Soviet Joint Institute of Nuclear Research at Dubna in Russia claimed to have found element 104 in 1966. Three years later, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley claimed discovery, alleging the Russians had not correctly isolated or identified the element. Since the honor of naming an element usually goes to its discoverers, competing names arose.

In 1967, the Russians named the element kurchatovium, with a chemical symbol Ku, after Russian physicist Igor Kurchatov (1903–60).1 The Americans, in turn, named it rutherfordium, with a symbol of Rf, after Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand-born, British physicist (1871–1937). The 5 December 1969 issue of Science has:

Scientists from the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory of the University of California announced results of chemical experiments on element 104 and used the occasion to propose a new name. Albert Ghiorso [...] suggested that the element be called rutherfordium for Lord Rutherford “the great pioneer of nuclear science.”2

Finally in 1997, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which officially names the elements, decided on the name rutherfordium.


1Oxford English Dictionary, kurchatovium, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 29 November 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50128281

2Oxford English Dictionary, rutherfordium, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 29 November 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50210973

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