The hunt for new elements: then and now

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Wednesday 6 March

Conversation Room

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place

  • Credit: The Royal Institution


Standard £16


Concession £10


Ri Members and Ri Patrons £7

Event description

In the 1800s, Royal Institution professors were the first to identify 10 chemical elements. Today there are 118 in our current periodic table. But how did the likes of Humphry Davy discover elements in the early 19th Century? In the 20th Century, after all the naturally occurring elements had been identified, how have scientists created new superheavy elements? And are there more elements to be created? Join writer Philip Ball, historian Frank James and nuclear chemist Christoph Düllmann to celebrate International Year of the Periodic Table.

About the speakers

Frank James is Professor of the History of Science and Head of Collections at the Royal Institution.

He studied at Imperial College where he received his PhD for a thesis on the development of spectroscopy in the nineteenth century. After a year at the Institute of Education, he joined the Royal Institution to establish its history of science activities. In 1998 he was appointed Head of Collections and Heritage and was appointed Professor of History of Science in 2004.

His main research has been editing the Correspondence of Michael Faraday which is now complete in six volumes. He is currently writing a book on Humphry Davy’s practical work, having always had a strong interest in the relations of science with other areas of society and culture, such as the military, art (where he co-authored a book on the scientific and technological content of paintings in the National Gallery), religion and technology.

He has been President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology, the British Society for the History of Science and the History of Science Section of the British Science Association. He was Chair of the National Organising Committee for the XXIVth International Congress for the History of Science and Technology held in Manchester in July 2013. He was recently elected a Corresponding Member of the Académie internationale d’histoire des sciences and a Member of the Academia Europaea.

Christoph E. Düllmann is Professor of Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) Mainz and head of the research sections on Superheavy Element Chemistry at GSI Helmholtzzentrum Darmstadt and Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM), Germany.

He studied chemistry at University of Bern, Switzerland, where he received his PhD for the first chemical study of element 108, hassium. He then spent about three years at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley, CA, USA, to establish methods to study novel compound classes of the superheavy elements, before joining GSI Darmstadt. Since 2010, he holds a joint professorship at JGU Mainz and GSI Darmstadt.

In 2015/16, he was visiting scientist at Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, to study processes governing the successful synthesis of heaviest elements.

His main research activities include the production of superheavy elements and their nuclear stability, as well as the gas phase chemical study of these elements and their compounds. He is also involved in a variety of collaborative efforts in various areas of fundamental physics, to which his group provides tailor-made samples of chemically purified radioisotopes.

He is a principal investigator at JGU Mainz in the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence of the German Excellence Initiative as well as the chair Nuclear Chemistry division of the German Chemical Society (GDCh).

He has co-organized several international symposia in the field and is a co-organizer of the 6th International Conference on the Chemistry and Physics of the Transactinide Elements (TAN 19), to be held in August 2019 in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, which will open with a special symposium celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table.


The doors will open at approximately 6.30pm, with a prompt start at 7.00pm.

Latecomers will be admitted to the gallery.


The Conversation room is on the ground floor and there is step-free access from the street.

The closest underground station is Green Park, which is step-free.

Seating is usually unreserved for our events. If you and your group require seating reservations, please do let us know by email and we’ll be more than happy to help. Email:

Carers can receive a free ticket to an event by emailing

Our theatre is equipped with an Audio Induction Loop.  

Become a member

Benefit from free and better than half-price tickets, special offers and access to the CHRISTMAS LECTURES ticket ballot.

Join todayGo

Upcoming Events

View all events