The highest form of vanity is love of fame.
George Santayana

With the rapid discovery of the atom, electron, proton, and neutron at the turn of the 20th century, scientific attention towards the periodic table heated up considerably. Though Mendeleev's initial work had set the stage for chemistry as a complete science, large chunks of the diagram was incomplete, based on the new atomic information. Physicists and chemists alike set out to "discover" these missing elements. One of these missing elements was element 61. Neodymium (60) and samarium (62) had been discovered in the 19th century, but no element yet had been found with an atomic weight of 61, although its existence had been proven by a physicist, Henry Moseley, in 1914. Labs around the world raced to produce the rare lanthanoid.

One such group was led by Luigi Rolla, a prestigious chemist in Firenze. In 1924, he and his lab assistant stumbled across the isotope through a uranium bombardment technique. Unfortunately, Rolla did not know that the element's half-life was a mere 2.6 days, and even more distressingly, he could not repeat the experiment with any success. All the same, he submitted a report to the IUPAC (those in charge of discovering and naming elements) with a claim that he had discovered element 61, and it was to be named florentium.

One year later, B. Smith Hopkins, a noted professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his two assistants began their quest to discover the elusive 61st element. Using a cyclotron, they claimed success on April 17, 1926, and turned in their own IUPAC form, calling the element illinium, in honor of the state of Illinois. To celebrate, the school held an "Illinium Dinner," attended by several luminaries throughout the region, including Nobel Prize winners Robert Milliken, Clinton Davisson, and others. The school prepared a parade for the discovery (if you couldn't tell, everything was an excuse for a parade in the Roaring Twenties.)

There was just one problem, as we now know: element 61 does not naturally appear on the planet Earth.

A careful and serious investigation into illinium was held, and the Hopkins team's claim was debunked. In 1947, using ion-exchange chromatography, three researchers at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee created 61 using uranium fission and neodymium. Two years later, their reports confirmed and established, they were allowed to name element 61, and they called it promethium, after the man who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to all of mankind.

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