Scientists discover, publish, and get prizes – The Nobel prize being one of the most prestigious. Inventors invent and patent their inventions. This is the world of discovery and invention, in a nutshell. However, often, scientists also invent and obtain patents. Sometimes the patents might not have anything to do with the work for which they have received the Nobel prize. Let us now explore Glenn T. Seaborg and his patents in this fifth article of the series on Nobel laureates and their patents.

The periodic table, also known as the periodic table of (the) chemical elements and the periodic table of the chemical elements, is a tabular display of chemical elements. It usually displays the symbol of each chemical element, its name, its atomic number, its valency, and so on. It is widely used in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, and is regarded as an icon of chemistry. It is a graphic representation of the periodic law stated as “the properties of the chemical elements exhibit a periodic dependence on their atomic numbers”. Recognisable trends run through the periodic table. The basic reason for these trends is electron configurations of atoms.

The Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev created a periodic table in 1869 which was the first to become generally accepted. Since, at that time all elements, were not known, there were gaps in the table. However, Mendeleev used the periodic law to successfully predict properties of some of the elements that would fill the gaps . His law was recognized as a fundamental discovery about nature only in the late nineteenth century, and it was explained with the discovery of the atomic number and pioneering work in quantum mechanics of the early twentieth century that illuminated the internal structure of the atom.

The Periodic table underwent changes over time and with the discovery of transuranium elements, a row of elements was added below the main table and was called the Lanthanide series.

Glenn T. Seaborg modified it further by adding the actinides. Glenn T. Seaborg was an American chemist who was involved in the synthesis, discovery, and investigation of ten transuranium elements. He was awarded a share of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shared it with Edwin McMillan, a physicist from University of California, Berkeley. McMillan had led a team that discovered element 93, which he named neptunium in 1940. He decided to leave Berkeley temporarily to do some urgent work related to radar technology, because of the second world war. However, Seaborg and his colleagues had perfected McMillan's technique for isolating neptunium. Seaborg sought McMillan’s permission to continue the research and search for element 94 and McMillan agreed.

Thus, Seaborg became the principal or co-discoverer of ten elements. They were plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, and seaborgium. Seaborgium was element 106 and was named after him while he was still alive. He also discovered more than 100 isotopes of transuranium elements and is credited with important contributions to the chemistry of plutonium during the Manhattan Project for the development of the atom bomb. The second type of bomb that was developed there was based on plutonium.

He had nearly sixty patents in many of which he was the sole inventor. Most of his patents are concerning methods of separating various elements from mixtures with other elements. For example, a method of separating neptunium from plutonium in aqueous inorganic solution. However, he was involved in the creation of a new isotope of iron (iron-59) which was useful in studying Haemoglobin in blood. He was also involved in the creation of isotope of iodine (iodine-131), which is used to treat thyroid disease even today. Because of contributions such as these and discoveries of many medically useful isotopes, Seaborg is regarded as a pioneer in nuclear medicine.

Interestingly Seaborg perhaps has two patents with the shortest ever claims - US3156523A and US3161462A with claims that read “Element 95” and “Element 96” respectively!