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Gallium's importance in the formation of the periodic table


Deciding to work with gallium, indium and thallium
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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I’ve already briefly mentioned that I was doing work on heavy water and logs of phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid and so forth. Another theme that I thought of, which you will understand was very much related to the periodic table, is that boron is the lightest element in group three – or group 13 in the modern nomenclature of the periodic table. Next below that is aluminium and I’ve already mentioned that aluminium chloride and Friedel–Crafts catalysts were important components in my thinking a couple of years earlier. Boron, aluminium... gallium comes next, then indium and thallium. Very little chemistry was known about gallium, indium and thallium in the 1950s so I thought that would be an interesting field to develop.

I started with gallium, which is a very important element, in fact, for a variety of reasons. The first one is that it was discovered in, I think, 1875 by Lecoq de Boisbaudran who owned, or his family owned some of the best vineyards in the Cognac region so he was not short of money. He chose to use it by being an independent scientist; he was interested in spectroscopy; he discovered gallium.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: 1950s, 1875, Cognac, Lecoq de Boisbaudran

Duration: 1 minute, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011