A feminine task:Karlik’s and Bernert’s discovery of the lastnatural occurring element
The conviction that knowledge acquired via scientific research could be out of the ordinary, or on a higher level, with respect to other forms of knowledge, whether artistic or cultural, was very deep-rooted among 20th century male scientists. At the same time, many scientists emphasized the objective character of their discoveries that allowed them access to an atmosphere of “reality” removed from value judgments and social ideologies, although this interpretation could also be debated. Perhaps “male Science” never held such a romantic position, nor its very name was always associated with the greatest opportunity and the highest ideals.
This paper takes into consideration the academic impact of Karlik and Bernert in their search for the last natural occurring element (astatine, Z=85) and it discusses pertinent topics, such as the increased number of discoveries in the nineteenth century due not only to female scientists working with their husbands (Curie and Noddack).
THE ELUSIVE EIGHTY-FIFTH ELEMENT
From the 1920s into the 1950s, scientists tried a variety of techniques to locate element 85, the heaviest halogen, based on its presumed properties (1). The claimed discovery in 1931 at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) by Fred Allison (1882-1974) and associates, led to the spurious name for the element of alabamine (Ab) for a few years(2). This discovery was later shown to be one of the biggest scientific blunders of all time.
In 1937, at Dhaka university, the unknown radio-chemist, Rajendralal De, published the discovery of a pair of elements found in the mineral monazite, one of which was presumably eka-iodine, long sought after by chemists all over t