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FEATURE ARTICLE

Master of Missing Elements

Henry Moseley’s discoveries sorted out the periodic table and transformed how scientists look for new forms of the most basic substances

Eric R. Scerri

2014-09ScerriF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageIn the early 1900s, a talented British chemist named Henry Moseley figured out a key property of chemical elements that transformed the periodic table. Shortly afterward, he went off to war and was killed by a sniper, a waste of talent that is still felt in chemical circles. Moseley figured out that x-rays diffracted from elements could be used to determine their atomic charge, also called their atomic number. He realized that elements on the periodic table should be reordered by atomic number, not weight as they had been before, and his method uncovered gaps to be filled by as-yet undiscovered elements. The race to fill those gaps was often contentious and dramatic. On the 100th anniversary of Moseley’s discoveries, the question arises: Could a yet-unnamed element be called mosleyum to honor this remarkable scientist?


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