Eric Scerri Leads Plea to Name New Element after Physicist Henry Moseley

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Scerri Eric Small

UCLA chemistry lecturer & historian Eric Scerri leads a plea from several distinguished chemists for one of the new elements to be named after Henry Moseley.

Henry Moseley was the English physicist who established that atomic number provided an improved way in which to order the elements than the use of atomic weight. Dr. Scerri is a world authority on the history and philosophy of the periodic table.

The group of chemists, including a Nobel Prizewinner (Roald Hoffmann, Cornell) and a Knight of the Realm (Sir John Meurig Thomas, FRS, Cambridge), voiced their plea in a letter published in the Times of London, a British daily national newspaper, on Saturday, February 27th. 

According to an article about Moseley and the plea to name an element after him, published in the same issue, the table of elements is to expand to include four more elements, discovered in experiments in Japan, Russia and the U.S. The laboratories that found the elements are now responsible for deciding names of the elements. A member of the British Army, Moseley was only 27 when he was killed by a sniper in 1915. The article states “

The Times

would note his death under the headline ‘A Brilliant Physicist’.  Ernest Rutherford, himself a brilliant physicist, would use the event to campaign for promising scientists never again to be sent to the front.”

Physicist Henry Moseley in the Balliol-Trinity Laboratory, Oxford, circa 1910, Wikipedia Commons

The letter published in the Jan. 27, 2016 issue of Times of London:

Element of truth

Sir, The discovery last December of four super-heavy chemical elements re-awakened worldwide interest in the periodic table, one of the great organising themes of science. Last year also marked the centenary of the death of the scientist Henry Moseley in the Gallipoli campaign. In a brief but breathtaking research career just before the outbreak of the Great War, Moseley discovered that the atomic number of an element was the fundamental property ordering the periodic table. In these days of multi-billion dollar projects to probe the nature of matter, we recall the words of the 1923 Nobel laureate Robert Millikan on Moseley’s contribution: “A young man 26 years old threw open the windows through which we could glimpse the sub-atomic world with a definiteness and certainty never dreamt before.” 

Despite his pivotal role in shaping the modern periodic table, no chemical element has ever been named after Moseley. The time has now come to honour his contribution by naming one of the new elements after him.

Professor Eric Scerri, UCLA

Professor Russel G. Egdell, University of Oxford

Professor Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University

Professor Friederich Hensel, University of Marburg

Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas, FRS, Cambridge University

Professor Peter P. Edwards, FRS, University of Oxford


Dr. Scerri is an author and editor of several books and a full-time lecturer in the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry which covers the history and philosophy of chemistry, and chemical education.

Dr. Scerri was the historical consultant for the 2015 PBS docudrama Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements in which he is interviewed extensively about the creator of the periodic table, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.  

To learn more about Dr. Scerri visit his website.