With an air of "There, that will convince them," Professor Fred Allison of Alabama Polytechnic Institute last week slapped on his desk a fresh copy of the American Chemical Society's Journal. "Them," referred to everyone who doubted that Professor Allison had discovered Element No. 87, or eka-cesium. in 1930 and Element No. 85, or eka-iodine last April by means of his new magneto-optical machine.
"Them" referred particularly to Professor Jacob Papish of Cornell, who last autumn recognized eka-cesium with the x-ray spectrograph. With an x-ray spectrograph Professor B. Smith Hopkins of the University of Illinois discovered the third last unknown element, No. 61, of the Periodic Table, which he named illinium (TIME, March 22, 1926).
Because Professor Allison's magneto-optical apparatus is his own contrivance, many a scientist doubted his discoveries. A few used similar machines, notably Professor Joseph Llewellyn McGhee of Emory University, Atlanta. Light from an electric spark is polarized by a Nicol prism, then sent through a cell containing carbon disulfide, a second cell containing a water solution of any substance to be tested; lastly through a second analyzing Nicol prism. Each of the two cells is surrounded by a coil of electric wire which becomes an electromagnet. The coils are so wound that the swings of the magnets are in opposite directions. To operate, the Allison device is so set that, with the magnets not working, the beam of light passing from the spark through the two cells and mirrors is at a minimum. Then, as the observer watches that minimum, he throws a current of electricity into the magnets. Their opposite fields wrench the light beam. The twisting follows the throwing of the switch by a time interval which must be measured in billionths of a second. Because that infinitesimal measurement is possible and because the time lag is different for every element and every form of every element, it is a delicate analyzer of unknown substances. It can discern one trillionth of a part of a foreign substance in anything presented to its wrenching beam. Last week's triumph of Professor Allison was his ability to state that eka-cesium had six very similar forms or isotopes. No. 87 belongs to the base-forming family of elements which include lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, cesium. Professor Allison, 50, asked scientists to call the element virginium. after the State of his birth. He asked them to call Element No. 85 —a halogen with fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine—alabamine, after the State whose Polytechnic Institute at Auburn he has headed for ten years. As scientific tender for this request, he last week reported that he had concentrated the relatively vast amount of 1/400,000th of a gram of alabamine in combination with lithium, light-weight brother of fugitive virginium. The pinch of new compound may well be termed a second cousin of common kitchen salt.