AT a symposium held by the American Chemical Society at Syracuse University on June 30, J. A. Marinsky and L. E. Glendenin, who during the War had succeeded in separating element 61 from the other uranium fission products, proposed to christen this element ‘promethium'. They explained their choice by a reference to Prometheus, “who stole fire from heaven for the use of mankind and for his audacity Was chained to a mountain by the gods and set upon by vultures. This name not only symbolizes the dramatic way in which the element may be produced in quantity as a result of man‘s harnessing of the energy of nuclear fission, but also warns man of the impending danger of punishment by the vulture of war.” In a review published some eighteen months ago (Nature, 159, 8; 1947) the conclusion was reached that Prof. C. D. Coryell‘s group, to which Marinsky and Glendenin belong, had the strongest claim to the discovery of element 61 and was entitled to give it a name. Some may perhaps think the present proposal a little far-fetched, since there are more impressive effects of atomic energy known than the production of small quantities of a new rare earth, and classical students may take exception to the vultures—since Prometheus' quarrel was with Zeus, the bird sent by his antagonist to torture him was, naturally, an eagle; but the etymology of this new name will soon be of as little importance as that of dozens of other element names which are much-less appropriate. There are still the rival claims for ‘illinium' and, more recently, for ‘cyclonium' (see Chemical and Engineering News, 25, 2555; 1947), and it is, therefore, too early to say whether the chemists of CoryelPs group will be generally recognized as the discoverers of element 61 ; but their brilliant Work seems to merit this international recognition, and there is a great likelihood that promethium (symbol Pm) will take its permanent place in the table of the chemical elements.
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Frontiers in Chemistry (2020)