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Geographic metals

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 01 February 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:258
  1. Jeff Aronson, clinical pharmacologist, Oxford (

    Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer who was supposedly murdered by a Russian agent, was poisoned by polonium. But this highly radioactive element is Polish, not Russian. It was discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie (née Sklodowska), working in Paris—a discovery for which she won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1911, having already shared the 1903 physics prize with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Antoine Henri Becquerel. She named the new element after her mother country, Poland (Latin Polonia).

    Many other elements have been named after places, usually because they were discovered there or nearby. Various parts of Europe can claim one apiece: europium itself, copper (Cyprus), germanium, rhenium (the river Rhine, Latin Rhenus), ruthenium (Russia, Latin Ruthenia), …

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