What is Dubnium? - Uses, Discovery & Properties

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 covers the discovery of the radioactive element dubnium by both Russia and United States scientists. The uses and properties of dubnium are also covered.

Russia And The United States

When you think of the historical relationship between Russia and the United States, what do you think about? Is it the Cold War or the Cuban missile crisis? How about the Space Race? Or do you think about the two countries competing against each other in the Olympic games? Did you know that the countries also competed to discover elements? One element that scientists competed to discover was dubnium. Let's find out more about it!

The Russian and United States flags
Flags of Russia and US

Dubnium Discovery

Dubnium is an element that doesn't naturally occur on earth. It was created in a lab. One way to create elements is to shoot small particles or elements at them in a process called bombardment. Teams of scientists located in both Russia and the United States worked to create new elements using this process.

In 1968, the Russian Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), which was led by the scientist Georgy Flerov, bombarded an isotope of americium with a neon atom. Remember, isotopes have the same number of protons, but a different amount of neutrons. Isotopes are identified by the mass number which is shown after the element. It is the combination of protons and neutrons. Specifically, they bombarded americium-243 with neon-22 and produced dubnium. The Russian team continued to research their new element and published a paper on their discover in 1970.

Georgy Flerov was the leader of the Russian team that discovered dubnium
Georgy Flerov

Also in 1970, an American team led by Albert Ghiorso was hard at work discovering new elements at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California. They bombarded the isotope californium-249 with neon-15 which produced dubnium-261.

Albert Ghiorso led the American team that discovered dubnium

The Naming of Dubnium

The name of dubnium was somewhat controversial at the time. The Russians wanted to name the element after the famous Danish scientist Niels Bohr, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922. They proposed 'nielsbohrium' with a chemical symbol of Ns. The Americans wanted to name the element after the German chemist Otto Hahn. They called the element 'hahnium' with the chemical symbol Ha.

The group that decides the names of the elements, called the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), was put in charge of resolving this conflict. They proposed naming the element 'joliotium' with the symbol Jl after the French chemist Jean-Frederic Joliot. As you can imagine, this didn't make either group very happy.

Eventually, IUPAC named element 107 after Niels Bohr, which appeased the Russian team. In an attempt to honor the proposal of the americans, IUPAC suggested naming element 108 after Otto Hahn, but unfortunately that name didn't stick. In 1997, dubnium was officially named after the Russian town of Dubna where the element was first made.

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