Precious Metals Discoverers And Name Etymologies


The group of precious metals consists of two coinage metals, six platinum group metals, and one metal considered the last naturally occurring stable element to be discovered. Except for gold and silver (the two coinage metals), the rest of the precious metals have recorded discoveries.

In the following list, the names of the discoverers and name etymologies of the seven precious metals (again, those with recorded discoveries) are provided. The year of discovery of each of these elements, as presented here, refers to the year when the element was first identified as the pure element. Also provided are their respective name etymologies.

1. Platinum – Antonio de Ulloa, a Spanish explorer and astronomer, is generally credited with the modern rediscovery (in 1735) of platinum. This precious metal actually was first described in 1557 by Giulio Cesare della Scala, an Italian physician. Because it was first chanced upon in silver mine in South America, platinum was named as such, after the Spanish word “platina”, which translates to “little silver”.

2. Palladium – William Hyde Wollaston, an English chemist and physicist, discovered palladium in 1803 in samples of platinum ore obtained from South America. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was discovered on March 28 the year before.

3. Osmium – Smithson Tennant, an English chemist, discovered osmium in 1803 from the residues of platinum ores that were dissolved in nitro-hydrochloric acid. Osmium’s characteristic of having a bad smell led to its naming as such, which was derived from the Greek word “osme”, meaning “smell”.

4. Iridium – Smithson Tennant discovered iridium in 1803, at the same time of his discovery of osmium from the same solution of platinum ores. Iridium is named after the Latin word “iris”, which means “rainbow”.

5. Rhodium – William Hyde Wollaston discovered rhodium in 1803, shortly after he discovered palladium. He discovered this precious metal from crude platinum samples obtained from South America. The name rhodium was derived from the Greek word “rhodon”, which means “rose”.

6. Ruthenium – Karl Karlovich Klaus, a Russian chemist and naturalist, is usually credited with the discovery of ruthenium (in 1844). He discovered it from platinum ore samples he obtained from the Ural Mountains in Russia. He named this precious metal after “ruthenia”, the Latin word for Klaus’s home country Russia.

7. Rhenium – A team of German chemists, composed of Walter Noddack, Ida Tacke, and Otto Carl Berg, discovered rhenium in 1925. They discovered the element from platinum ore samples as well as from the mineral gadolinite. They named it after the Latin word “rhenus”, for “Rhine”, one of Europe’s longest and most important rivers.

As for the precious metals gold and silver, both are known to be already in use since ancient times (gold was in use probably as early as before 6000 BC, while silver probably as early as before 5000 BC). The name “gold” was derived from the same Anglo-Saxon word, which translates to “bright yellow”. The name “silver”, on the other hand, is from “seolfor”, also an Anglo-Saxon word.

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