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Monday, October 26, 2015

National Pride Note II

table of elements by country of discovery

A Smithsonian Magazine article offers a periodic table of elements with each element marked by the country of first discovery. This occasions another moment of national pride.

Of the roughly 100 or so known elements, no fewer than 19 were discovered by Swedish scientists.If the three elements discovered by Danes or Finns—who really should be regarded as Swedes who were generously granted autonomy by the Swedes—are added to the Swedish total, Sweden almost wins the competition. This ties Sweden for second place with Germany, a nation with more than ten times the population over the relevant period and with a well-earned reputation for not being scientific dullards. Only the United Kingdom, a nation with about eight times the population and of some scientific repute itself, beats Sweden with the discovery of 23 elements. The United States ranks fairly well and, if its near domination of the most recent discoveries at the bottom of the table is any indication, would most likely have come out on top, if it hadn’t come to the game so late.

A remarkable fact about the Swedish discovery of elements is that no fewer than seven(!) were discovered in a quarry in the tiny Swedish village of YtterbyThe size of Ytterby is hinted at even by its name which literally translates to Outer Village—a place so remote that it does not even share the cosmopolitanism of the main village. not far from the author’s country home. Four of them, yttrium (Y), erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), and ytterbium (Yb), are even named after Ytterby. The other three elements discovered there are holmium (Ho, named after Stockholm), thulium (Tm, named after Thule, a mythic analog of Scandinavia), and gadolinium (Gd, after the chemist Johan Gadolin).