Thursday, 3 November 2011

Discovering Osmium and Iridium

This is the first time the names Osmium and Iridium were used.

They were written by scientist Smithson Tennant, who lived in the 17th and 18th century.

We were lucky enough to see his original letter during a visit to the archives at The Royal Society.

This year marks 250 years since Tennant's birth and Professor Martyn Poliakoff will be giving a public talk as part of the commemorations.

Here's the video we made during our visit:

Professor Poliakoff had a few interesting observations about the documents.

He seemed to especially enjoy the "cutting and pasting" by Tennant - an old fashioned version of what we still do with word processors.

But most interesting were Tennant's descriptions of why he chose the names - due to the appearance and odour of his discoveries.

The video also has a sad and mysterious post script.

The Royal Society archivists showed us a letter outlining Tennant's demise in a horse riding accident.

And how Tennant may have taken another discovery with him to the grave.

More photos from our visit can be found at this link.

And here are details about Profesor Poliakoff's upcoming talk.


  1. The royal society has made its archive free to access online:

    You can read Tennant's article online, just use the search form:

    Smithson Tennant

    On Two Metals, Found in the Black Powder Remaining after the Solution of Platina.Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 1800 1:161-162; doi:10.1098/rspl.1800.0091

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