Wojciech Grochala describes how the oldest, lightest and most abundant element in the universe continues to play an essential role on today's Earth.
The International Year of the Periodic Table
2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, marking 150 years since Dimitri Mendeleev ordered the elements into a table. Of course, the table and our understanding of chemical periodicity has evolved in the intervening time, and this collection features research from across those 150 years, showcasing important and interesting research papers from the archive, along with commentaries and multimedia from across the Nature family.
Dan O'Leary examines Harold Urey's decision to name the mass-2 hydrogen isotope 'deuterium'.
Scientists take nomenclature seriously, but tritium was named in a casual aside. Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette discuss the heavy, radioactive hydrogen isotope that is available for purchase online.
Owing to peculiar properties, helium has taken both the main and supporting roles in scientific discoveries over the years. Christine Herman explores just what makes it such a cool element.
Jean-Marie Tarascon ponders on the value of lithium, an element known for about 200 years, whose importance is now fast increasing in view of the promises it holds for energy storage and electric cars.
Although it is mainly known for its toxicity, beryllium possesses an array of properties that makes it attractive for a variety of non-industrial purposes. Ralph Puchta discusses why it is not always best avoided.
Long ago, a global search for borane superfuels led fortuitously to the discovery of carboranes. Ken Wade recalls his own undistinguished part in the space race, and notes how carboranes revitalized boron hydride chemistry and modified our ideas of chemical bonding.
Simon H. Friedman explores the various ways in which carbon is inherently tied to our lives — beyond its elegant, treasured role in organic chemistry.
Although first known among chemists for its noxious or lifeless character, nitrogen was later revealed to be involved in many life, and death, processes. Michael Tarselli ponders on this unforeseen characteristic.
Oxygen has contributed to our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth by providing invaluable clues to geological processes — yet it still holds the key to some unsolved mysteries, as Mark H. Thiemens explains.
Herbert Roesky relates how the small, highly electronegative fluorine atom unveiled the chemical reactivity of noble gases and found many practical applications. but it can also render organic compounds highly toxic or pollutants.
Felice Grandinetti ponders on the peculiarity of neon among the noble gases — and whether it should occupy the top-right position in the periodic table.
Sodium, ubiquitous on Earth in living organisms, oceans and minerals — all the way to table salt — may seem like one of the more ordinary elements. Margit S. Müller highlights why we, like the fairytale king, should not take it for granted.
Magnesium is commonly found in rocks and sea water as well as living organisms. Paul Knochel relates how this element has also sparked a great deal of interest among chemists.
Daniel Rabinovich outlines the history, properties and uses of aluminium — one of the most versatile, pervasive and inexpensive metals today, yet it was considered a rare and costly element only 150 years ago.
Mietek Jaroniec reflects on how silicon, whether bonded with other elements in a variety of materials, in high purity for electronic devices, or in its newer 'black silicon' form, continues to be invaluable in many aspects of our lives.
Jonathan R. Nitschke considers how the story of phosphorus, an element that glows without fire, nicely illustrates the pursuit of scientific knowledge — including how such knowledge goes on to serve many purposes, for better or for worse.
Thomas Rauchfuss marvels at the diversity of sulfur reactivity. Although it poisons most industrial catalysts, it adopts many forms in nature and takes on a variety of biological roles — including that of a biocatalyst.
Barbara Finlayson-Pitts muses on how chlorine has come to play a role in many aspects of our lives — for better or for worse.
Markku Räsänen remembers making a neutral compound featuring argon, and ponders on the reactivity of this inert element.
Lars Öhrström ponders the importance of potassium in matters of life and death.
Calcium is found throughout the solar system, the Earth's crust and oceans, and is an essential constituent of cells, shells and bones — yet it is curiously scarce in the upper atmosphere. John Plane ponders on this 25-year-old mystery.
From Earth to the stars and back again, John Emsley surveys the uses, occurrences and mysteries of an element that is playing an increasing role in human affairs.
From toothpaste to Tebbe reagents, Michael Tarselli takes a look at the many different faces of titanium.
Andrea Taroni shares his experience with vanadium — a colourful element with a rich chemistry (and physics!) that is emblematic of all transition metals.
From rubies to Rolls-Royce, Anders Lennartson explores the colourful history of chromium and its coordination compounds.
John Emsley looks at an element that is vital to life.
Iron has important roles in areas as diverse as physiological processes and industrial activities, but has traditionally been eclipsed by other transition metals in synthesis processes. Carsten Bolm looks at how iron is now also becoming an increasingly sought-after catalyst.
David Lindsay and William Kerr remind us that where cobalt is concerned, good has triumphed over evil.
Although reports on the use of nickel can be traced back to 3,500 BC, Catherine Drennan points to a resurgence of interest in nickel-based chemistry in the energy and environmental areas.
Copper, routinely encountered in daily life, may at first glance seem a little unexciting. Tiberiu G. Moga relates how science, however, has not overlooked its promise.
Elements that are widespread in nature and have been used for thousands of years are not typically deemed exciting, but Anders Lennartson argues that we shouldn't take zinc for granted.
Trick cutlery and mobile phones have one peculiar element in common, as Marshall Brennan explains.
Shawn C. Burdette and Brett F. Thornton explore how germanium developed from a missing element in Mendeleev's periodic table to an enabler for the information age, while retaining a nomenclature oddity.
If ever there was an element that epitomizes the notion that chemicals might be good or bad depending on their use, arsenic must be it. Katherine Haxton explains why.
Russell Boyd ponders on how selenium — despite close similarities with its neighbours of the chalcogen family, sulfur and tellurium — continues to reveal chemical and biological activities of its own.
Many chemical elements behave quite differently depending on the compound they are found in, but Matt Rattley argues that bromine does so in a particularly striking manner.
Matic Lozinšek and Gary J. Schrobilgen consider krypton — namesake of Superman's home planet — its superoxidant compounds, and their roles in coaxing elements into their highest oxidation states.
Iulia Georgescu explains why rubidium is atomic physicists' favourite chemical element.
From sugar beets to TV screens, François-Xavier Coudert explores the history, applications and perils of the Scottish element, strontium
Peter Dinér describes the journey of yttrium from its discovery in a remote mine to high-temperature superconductors and light-emitting diodes.
From fake gems to a fixture of nuclear plants, John Emsley considers the many uses of zirconium.
Michael Tarselli reflects on the intriguing characteristics of a rather underrated element, niobium, in its 'missing' and existing forms.
Anders Lennartson muses on molybdenum and its essential role in catalysing reactions from the bacterial to the industrial scale.
The story of the last element to be discovered out of the first 92 catalogued in the periodic table is told by Eric Scerri, who reminds us that technetium can be found a little closer to home than many of us might think.
From humble beginnings in Siberia, ruthenium has blossomed into an incredibly interesting and useful element. Simon Higgins looks at its role in past — and perhaps future — Nobel Prize-winning discoveries.
Lars Öhrström relates the various roles played by rhodium in our daily lives, ranging from car components to drugs.
You would be forgiven if you thought the most important element in an organic transformation was carbon. Matthew Hartings argues that, for just over half a century in many of chemistry's most renowned organic reactions, it has actually been palladium.
Katharina M. Fromm explains how, as well as catalysis and jewellery, silver serves a myriad of medicinal applications — some of which are even behind poetic traditions such as throwing coins in wishing wells.
Nadezda V. Tarakina and Bart Verberck explore the colourful history and assets of element 48.
Catherine Renouf describes how indium went from being a rather inconspicuous element to one whose role as a component of high-technology devices and gadgets may deplete its worldwide resources.
Tin has been ubiquitous throughout the course of human history, from Bronze Age tools to lithium-ion battery components, yet Michael A. Tarselli warns it should not be deemed pedestrian. Its tendency to linger in human tissues presents a dangerous side that steers researchers towards greener chemistries.
Claire Hansell surveys the uses, past and present, for antimony, including an unusual method for 'recycling' it.
Jim Ibers takes a look at the intriguing structures and bonding found in tellurium and its compounds, and considers their uses in a diversity of fields ranging from metallurgy to electronics.
Pierangelo Metrangolo and Giuseppe Resnati celebrate the bicentenary of the discovery of iodine — a good time to also bring to its conclusion an international project that aims to define and categorize halogen bonding.
Like all noble gases, xenon is colourless, odourless and inflammable — but it is also more reactive, and much rarer, than its lighter relatives. Ivan Dmochowski ponders how xenon, though initially slow to earn a spot in the periodic table, is now at the forefront of advances in science and technology.
Eric Ansoborlo and Richard Wayne Leggett discuss the chemical and radiological characteristics that make caesium a captivating element but also a troublesome contaminant.
Katharina M. Fromm relates how barium and its ores went from a magical, glowing species that attracted witches and alchemists to components in a variety of compounds that are key parts of modern life.
Lanthanum is the first lanthanide — or the last. Or it’s not a lanthanide at all. In any case, Brett Thornton and Shawn Burdette are sure that it’s an element that might or might not be in group three of the periodic table.
Eric J. Schelter ponders on cerium's rather puzzling redox reactivity, and the varied practical applications that have emerged from it.
Adrian Dingle relates how one ‘element’ that fell off the periodic table was eventually replaced by two.
From grand challenges of nineteenth century chemistry to powerful technology in small packages, Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette explain why neodymium is the twin element discovered twice by two Carls.
Stuart Cantrill explains why looking to the heavens for element 61 — named after the Titan who stole fire from the gods — could extend the periodic table.
Stanislav Strekopytov relates the history of rare-earth element samarium, from its geological origins to its geochronological uses.
Jean-Claude Bünzli sheds light on why europium — an element that is neither abundant in the Earth's crust nor involved in biological processes — has nevertheless attracted a great deal of interest from chemists.
Pekka Pyykkö discusses the history and characteristics of gadolinium.
Geng Deng relates how terbium, a garden-variety lanthanide, has found its way into our daily lives owing to its green phosphorescence.
Beginning with its origins as the archetypal and eponymously elusive rare-earth element, Dante Gatteschi explains why dysprosium and other lanthanides have cornered the market in molecular magnetism.
Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette consider holmium's hotly contested discovery and later obscurity.
Claude Piguet reflects on the history of erbium, which is very much intertwined with its rare earth cousins yttrium, ytterbium and terbium.
Named after a mysterious place, thulium — one of the rarest rare earths — has some exotic chemistry in store for us, says Polly Arnold.
Alasdair Skelton and Brett F. Thornton examine the twisting path through the several discoveries of ytterbium, from the eighteenth century to the present.
Lars Öhrström suspects that as time goes by, we may see more of lutetium — the last of the lanthanoids.
Shawn C. Burdette and Brett F. Thornton examine hafnium’s emergence from ores containing a seemingly identical element to become both a chemical oddity and an essential material for producing nuclear energy.
Giovanni Baccolo relates tales of tantalum, an element known, and named, for its inertness, yet one that holds some surprises, such as a naturally occurring nuclear isomer.
Pilar Goya, Nazario Martín and Pascual Román relate how element 74 can be found in lamp filaments or weapon parts and also in literature, and continues to serve many purposes — no matter which of its two names it is given.
Rhenium and technetium not only share the same group in the periodic table, but also have some common history relating to how they were — or indeed weren't — discovered. Eric Scerri explains.
Gregory Girolami recounts how element 76 beat a close competitor to the title of densest known metal and went on to participate in Nobel Prize-winning reactions.
David Payne relates iridium's role in two very different ages.
As a rare and precious metal that is also resistant to wear and tarnish, platinum is known to be particularly well-suited to jewellery. Vivian Yam reflects on how, beyond its prestigious image, platinum has also found its way into a variety of fields ranging from the petrochemical to the pharmaceutical industry.
Catalysis using gold has fast become a major research field with great potential, and many new discoveries are being made. Graham Hutchings reflects on how this has come about.
Joel D. Blum considers the two faces of mercury. It has many unique and useful properties in chemistry — yet it comes with a dark and dangerous side.
Anders Lennartson ponders on the contribution of thallium to society, since its main characteristic is its toxicity.
Somobrata Acharya explores the history, properties and uses of lead — an ancient metal that is still very relevant to today's technologies, but should be used with caution.
Ram Mohan looks at how bismuth — a remarkably harmless element among the toxic heavy metals in the periodic table — has sparked interest in areas varying from medicinal to industrial chemistry.
Eric Ansoborlo considers the disproportionate potency of polonium compared with its relative scarcity on Earth.
D. Scott Wilbur points out the difficulty in studying the transient element astatine, and the need to understand its basic chemical nature to help in the development of targeted radiotherapy agents.
Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette look back at the discovery — and the many different names — of element 86.
Eric Scerri recounts the story of element 87, which after a number of false starts was finally tracked down in France — and named in its honour.
Vikki Cantrill tells the story of element 88’s discovery and how its glowing reputation eventually faded.
Naturally scarce but synthetically accessible, Gauthier J.-P. Deblonde and Rebecca J. Abergel discuss element 89 and its emergence as a candidate radio-theranostic metal for cancer treatment.
John Arnold, Thomas L. Gianetti and Yannai Kashtan look back on thorium's chemistry, and look forward to harnessing its nuclear potential.
Richard Wilson relates how the rare, highly radioactive, highly toxic element protactinium puzzled chemists for a long time, and was discovered and named twice from two different isotopes before finding its place in fundamental research.
Uranium is best known, and feared, for its involvement in nuclear energy. Marisa J. Monreal and Paula L. Diaconescu take a look at how its unique combination of properties is now increasingly attracting the attention of chemists.
Jim Ibers talks about neptunium, an element that has remained largely unnoticed despite the flurry of activity devoted to its neighbours in the periodic table, uranium and plutonium.
For historical reasons, plutonium brings to mind nuclear weapons. Jan Hartmann brings another side of element 94 to attention, which features an upcoming trip to its eponymous celestial body.
Made under a cloak of wartime secrecy, yet announced in the most public of ways — a radioactive element that governments insist we take into our homes. Ben Still explains how element 95 is one of real contradiction.
From secretive beginnings to serving in missions on Mars, Rebecca J. Abergel and Eric Ansoborlo take a look at the glowing mark curium has left on contemporary science and technology.
The first new element produced after the Second World War has led a rather peaceful life since entering the period table — until it became the target of those producing superheavy elements, as Andreas Trabesinger describes.
Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt explains the origin of element 98's striking green glow, and why the future for californium chemistry is just as bright.
Discovered during secret testing by the United States, Joanne Redfern tells us about element 99 and why its namesake cautioned against the very technology that led to its creation.
Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette relate how element 100 was first identified in a nuclear weapons test, but that was classified information, so researchers had to 'discover' it again using other methods.
The first element to be identified one atom at a time was named after the main architect of the modern periodic table. This seemingly straightforward etymological choice illustrates how scientific recognition can eclipse geopolitical tensions, says Anne Pichon.
Alfred Nobel's eponymous element, nobelium, was 'first' discovered either in the 1950s or 1960s, in the USSR, Sweden or the USA. Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette delve into the ensuing decades of internecine strife over the discovery of element 102.
Yuichiro Nagame ponders on the steps it took to make lawrencium, and its location in the periodic table.
Mitch André Garcia considers the disputed discovery of element 104 and takes a look at how the chemistry of this synthetic element is developing.
Lars Öhrström tells of the fleeting, but still tangible, chemistry of dubnium, the heaviest of the group 5 elements.
Christoph E. Düllmann reflects on the excitement, and implications, of probing the reactivity of heavy element seaborgium.
Bohrium behaves just as a group 7 element should — but this is in fact surprising, Philip Wilk explains.
From its scarcity to political intrigue over naming conventions, element 108’s story describes how international cooperation overcame the limits of nuclear science, says Michael Tarselli.
Adrian Dingle tells the story of how the name of element 109 represents the lasting recognition that one of the greatest nuclear physicists was in danger of never receiving.
Dieter Ackermann explains why element 110 occupies a significant place in the superheavy corner of the periodic table.
Taye Demissie relates unununium’s unusually smooth route to roentgenium, and how predicting its properties relies on relativistic calculations.
In the search for superheavy elements, element 112 was a stepping stone towards the 'islands of stability'. Sigurd Hofmann now relates the steps that led to its 'creation' and detection.
Iulia Georgescu explains her fascination with the elusive element 113.
The chemistry of element 114 seems to be in reach, yet Peter Schwerdtfeger cautions that we should expect the unexpected from this young element, which is so different to its lighter counterparts.
Yuri Oganessian relates the story of the formation and decay of a doubly odd moscovium nucleus.
Alpha decay into flerovium? It must be Lv, says Kat Day, as she tells us how little we know about element 116.
Liz Williams explores the synthesis of tennessine, a story in which elements in supporting roles play a crucial part.
Kit Chapman explores the voyage to the discovery of element 118, the pioneer chemist it is named after, and false claims made along the way.