Studia Historiae Scientiarum recently published a research article in Polish by Halina Lichocka in the “Science Beyond Borders” section entitled “Westium and Ruthenium against the background of the history of chemistry”.
In this post on our blog, Halina Lichocka sketches the most important achievements of her research.
The history of science knows many examples of disputes over the priority of discovery. The resolutions of these disputes, although not always right and not always scientifically verified, function later in the literature as a certainty that is difficult to challenge. This is illustrated by ruthenium – an element isolated from crude platinum in 1844 by Karl E. Claus. Was it the same element that Jędrzej Śniadecki had discovered almost 40 years prior?
Raw platinum has fascinated many chemists, and it is in raw platinum that two British researchers, Smithson Tennant (1761–1815) and William Hyde Wollaston (1766–1828), discovered four new elements in just two years (1803–1804), similar in properties to platinum (i.e. iridium, osmium, palladium and rhodium). Jędrzej Śniadecki, professor of chemistry at the Vilnius University, repeated the experience of the British chemists several times and as a result he received a salt whose properties differed from salts of previously known metals. He was sure that he discovered a new platinum-like element in the raw mineral. He gave it the name Vestium.
He reported the discovery to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, but it was not recognized there.
Twenty years later, Gottfried Wilhelm Osann (1796–1866), professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the University of Dorpat, began the analysis of raw platinum. He claimed that he received salts of three new elements, but gave up announcing his results, as they were questioned by the prominent Swedish chemist J. J. Berzelius. It was in 1828.
Over the following years, it was thought that only five metals shared properties with platinum: platinum, palladium, osmium, rhodium and iridium. The discovery of the sixth metal was not recognized until 1844. Karl E. Claus isolated a new element in a metallic form from crude platinum and gave it the name Ruthenium.
What about Śniadecki? He had died several years earlier and the scientific world did not remember him. The mystery of the priority of the discovery cannot be solved today, not unlike many others. One thing, however, is beyond doubt: Jędrzej Śniadecki was the first to be right – there are six platinoids in nature!
I am refering to the full article: