Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Iain and I spent a pleasant afternoon at Cameron House as guests at a celebratory dinner.  I am used to the host or possibly a group of guests being civil engineers but this occasion was different; some of the guests were from the nuclear industry.  Lots to talk about - nuclear energy, waste disposal, components of smoke alarms (!)

An anecdote came to mind ... and these chaps did not know the story.  It was told to me years ago ... a rather interesting Glasgow story about how the word 'isotopes'  came into use.

Isotopes and LIfe's Baggage

For some reason I have always remembered the meaning of the word, namely, 'atoms of an element which have the same atomic number but different atomic weight'. (I was obliged to study high school plus 1st and 2nd year university chemisty as part of the Nursing School at UBC in the early 1960s! And this is probably a good example of what a waste ... how irrelevant!.... it all was!)

But I digress ....  the anecdote:

A man called Fredrick Soddy moved to Glasgow in 1904 and was a lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Radioactivity at Glasgow University. His field was the chemistry of radioactive elements.

He found that a radioactive element may have more than one atomic mass though the chemical properties are identical  But he didn't have a name for this. 

At a dinner party in his father-in-law's house at 11 University Gardens he was talking to a fellow guest, Dr Margaret Todd, about this.

It was she who, over a glass of sherry, came up with suggestion of 'isotopes' from the Greek roots isos (ἴσος "equal") and topos (τόπος "place").

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of isotopes in 1921.

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