In this post, we will see the book The Price Of Truth: The Story of Rare-Earth Elements by D. N. Trifonov.
About the book
This book is about a fascinating family of chemical elements.
Popular science writers generally tend to overuse the word “fascinating” but in this case it gives a very apt description. Indeed, everything about these dozen and a half elements is fascinating-the histories of their discoveries, their properties and their applications.
Take Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements. The row under the table describes 14 elements from cerium to lutetium. When we add to them lanthanum, yttrium and scandium which are found in the third group of the table we have 17 elements comprising this fascinating family.
Seventeen? Was not it a dozen and a half just a few lines above? What is i t – a slip or carelessness?
Not at all. There is yet no complete agreement on which elements can be called the rare-earth elements. We shall discuss this problem below.
At last we gave the name to this family-the rare- earth elements belong to it. This rather interestingly sounding name contains two substantial errors.
Indeed, these elements are not all that rare.
Further studies demonstrated that the properties of these elements differed from those of the classic “earth” elements. Then their oxides should not be called earths.
We see that the name “rare earths” is just a relic of the past still used owing to a tradition. Sometimes it is better to keep an old familiar name, even if it has lost its former meaning, than invent a new one. Though this family of elements never lacked for names as we shall see in this story.
A prominent French chemist Georges Urbain once gave a very imaginative description of the history of rare-earth elements saying: “It was a sea of errors and the truth sank in it.”
But when the truth had been finally uncovered, when all intricacies of rare-earth elements had been studied it became clear that they were priceless, indeed. Rare earths make their contribution to the progress in practically all branches of modem technology.
Here we end this short but necessary introduction and begin our story.
About the author
Dmitri TRIFONOV is a Soviet chemist working on the history of chemistry. D. Trifonov was born in 1932. He graduated from the chemical department of Moscow University where he later was awarded the degree of doctor of science. Currently he is the head of a research group at the Institute of History of Natural Sciences and Technology of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow .His research concerns mainly the theory and history of the periodic system of elements. He has written several books on the subject some of which have been translated into foreign languages. D. Trifonov is a well-known writer on science. He has written ten popular science books and a few dozen papers
The book was translated from Russian by O. Glebov and I. Poluyan and was published in 1987 by Mir Publishers.
You can get the book here.
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