Ruthenium: Element Facts, Characteristics & Discovery

Instructor: Sarah Pierce

Sarah has a doctorate in chemistry, and 12 years of experience teaching high school chemistry & biology, as well as college level chemistry.

This lesson describes the discovery of ruthenium in the Ural Mountains by Karl Karlovich Klaus. The characteristics of ruthenium such as color, melting point, and chemical reactivity are also covered.


Have you ever heard of a geographic region called Ruthenia? Probably not. It was an area in Eastern Europe in the middle ages that corresponds to the Ukraine and part of Russia now. While Ruthenia has disappeared, the element named for it has not. Ruthenium was named for the geographic location where it was discovered: Ruthenia, which is the Latin word for Russia. While several elements have been named for their geographic location, ruthenium was the first. Let's find out more about the element ruthenium.

A sample of ruthenium
ruthenium metal

The Discovery of Ruthenium

Ruthenium was almost discovered by several different scientists before its identity was confirmed. In 1808, Jedrzej Sniadecki, a Swedish chemist, was analyzing a sample of the new metal platinum from South America. Through his investigations, he decided that his sample was actually two metals: platinum and some unique metal that he called vestium, which he named after Vesta the asteroid. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't ever really isolate or characterize the metal and no other scientist could reproduce his work. Now scientists believe that vestium was probably modern-day ruthenium.

Sniadecki was probably the first scientist to recognize the element ruthenium
Jedrzej Sniadecki

The next scientist who may have stumbled across ruthenium was the German chemist Gottfried Osann in 1825. He was studying a platinum sample from the Ural Mountains of the geographic area Ruthenia that we talked about earlier. He dissolved the platinum is a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid called aqua regia. He notice that there was a black residue left after the platinum had dissolved. He thought there were three metals in the residue and he named them pluranium, polinium, and ruthenium. Unfortunately, he also couldn't replicate, or repeat, his results. Pluranium and polinium never became element names, however, ruthenium did.

Osann named ruthenium after the geographical area where it was discovered
Gottfried Osann

Ruthenium was officially discovered by a Russian chemist named Karl Karlovich Klaus. In 1840, Klaus began to investigate platinum ore similar to the work that Osann did 15 years prior. In 1844, he published that he has isolated ruthenium. He chose to keep the name that Osann had assigned to the element out of respect for his home country, Russia.

Klaus is the scientist who officially discovered ruthenium

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