Search for element 43
From the 1860s through 1871, early forms of the periodic table proposed by Dmitri Mendeleev contained a gap between molybdenum (element 42) and ruthenium (element 44). In 1871, Mendeleev predicted this missing element would occupy the empty place below manganese and have similar chemical properties. Mendeleev gave it the provisional name ekamanganese (from eka-, the Sanskrit word for one) because the predicted element was one place down from the known element manganese.
Many early researchers, both before and after the periodic table was published, were eager to be the first to discover and name the missing element. Its location in the table suggested that it should be easier to find than other undiscovered elements.
Periodisches System der Elemente (1904–1945, now at the Gdańsk University of Technology
): lack of elements: 84 polonium Po (though discovered as early as in 1898 by Maria Sklodowska-Curie
), 85 astatine At (1940, in Berkeley), 87 francium Fr (1939, in France), 93 neptunium Np (1940, in Berkeley) and other actinides and lanthanides. Old symbols for: 18 argon Ar (here: A), 43 technetium Tc (Ma, masurium, 1925, dismissed as an error and finally confirmed in 1937, Palermo), 54 xenon Xe (X), 86 radon, Rn (Em, emanation)
German chemists Walter Noddack, Otto Berg, and Ida Tacke reported the discovery of element 75 and element 43 in 1925, and named element 43 masurium (after Masuria in eastern Prussia, now in Poland, the region where Walter Noddack's family originated). The group bombarded columbite with a beam of electrons and deduced element 43 was present by examining X-ray emission spectrograms. The wavelength of the X-rays produced is related to the atomic number by a formula derived by Henry Moseley in 1913. The team claimed to detect a faint X-ray signal at a wavelength produced by element 43. Later experimenters could not replicate the discovery, and it was dismissed as an error for many years. Still, in 1933, a series of articles on the discovery of elements quoted the name masurium for element 43.[note 1] Whether the 1925 team actually did discover element 43 is still debated.
Official discovery and later history
The discovery of element 43 was finally confirmed in a 1937 experiment at the University of Palermo in Sicily by Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segrè. In mid-1936, Segrè visited the United States, first Columbia University in New York and then the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. He persuaded cyclotron inventor Ernest Lawrence to let him take back some discarded cyclotron parts that had become radioactive. Lawrence mailed him a molybdenum foil that had been part of the deflector in the cyclotron.
Segrè enlisted his colleague Perrier to attempt to prove, through comparative chemistry, that the molybdenum activity was indeed from an element with the atomic number 43. In 1937, they succeeded in isolating the isotopes technetium-95m and technetium-97. University of Palermo officials wanted them to name their discovery "panormium", after the Latin name for Palermo, Panormus. In 1947 element 43 was named after the Greek word τεχνητός, meaning "artificial", since it was the first element to be artificially produced. Segrè returned to Berkeley and met Glenn T. Seaborg. They isolated the metastable isotope technetium-99m, which is now used in some ten million medical diagnostic procedures annually.
In 1952, astronomer Paul W. Merrill in California detected the spectral signature of technetium (specifically wavelengths of 403.1 nm, 423.8 nm, 426.2 nm, and 429.7 nm) in light from S-type red giants. The stars were near the end of their lives, yet were rich in this short-lived element, indicating that it was being produced in the stars by nuclear reactions. This evidence bolstered the hypothesis that heavier elements are the product of nucleosynthesis in stars. More recently, such observations provided evidence that elements are formed by neutron capture in the s-process.
Since that discovery, there have been many searches in terrestrial materials for natural sources of technetium. In 1962, technetium-99 was isolated and identified in pitchblende from the Belgian Congo in extremely small quantities (about 0.2 ng/kg); there it originates as a spontaneous fission product of uranium-238. The Oklo natural nuclear fission reactor contains evidence that significant amounts of technetium-99 were produced and have since decayed into ruthenium-99.