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Rediscovery of the Elements
The Harz Mountains and Gbttingen
James L. Marshal, beta Eta /971, and
Virginia R. Marshall, Beta Eta 2003,
Department of Chemistry, University of
North Texas, Denton,TX 76203-5070,
The Harz Mountains. In central Germany lie
the Harz Mountains, a natural preserve and a
National Park (Figure 1). This region, which lies
astride of the boundary separating West and
East Germany during 1949-1990, was a "no-
man's land" which served as a protected area
allowing natural plants and wildlife to flourish.
Today one may gain an appreciation for the
beauty and expanse of the region by traveling
the narrow-gauge Brockenbahn (train) from
Wemigerode (the birthplace of Klaproth, the
discoverer of uranium;") to the summit of
Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz (1141 m)
and the mythical home of witches in Goethe's
For more than a millennium, mining was
widespread in the Harz; this region produced
silver, iron, lead, and zinc, and small amounts of
copper and gold. Cadmium was a by-product of
the zinc industry in Goslar and was discovered
by Friedrich Stromeyer (1776-1835) at the
University of Gottingen, 50 kilometers to the
southwest. Tilkerode in the southeastern part of
the Harz provided the ores in which William
Crookes (1832-1919) discovered thallium in
London in 1861."'
The Discovery of Cadmium. The Goslar
region has historically been the center of the
Hamburg g , e
GERMANY 100 km,
Harz M is.
RIGHT: Figure 2. An ancient
woodcut of the Oker manufacturing
region during its productive period
of the 1800s (courtesy, Museum
der Gbttinger Chemie). Oker is a
suburb of Goslar which was active
in the processing of silver, copper,
lead, and zinc.
mining industry in the Harz Mountains
(Figures 2, 3). The Rammelsberg Museum in
Goslar (Figure 4) is an expansive network of
buildings holding elaborate exhibits of mining
equipment, uniforms and tools, and scientific
displays of the metals mined in the area.
Zinc has played an important part in the his-
tory of the Rammelsberg region. A special
exhibit in the Rammelsberg Museum describes
the first published description of purified zinc
(Note 1) at Goslar by George Engelhard von
L6hneyss (1552-1625)2 (Figure 5). When the
smelters of silver and lead were operating,
volatile zinc would sublime from the furnaces
and condense in the gaps between the slate
stones. This metal, described as"white as tin but
harder," could be scraped from the walls but
was not commercially valued because it was too
brittle. However, it was soon discovered that
when mixed with copper it made superior brass
to the previous recipe from tin and calamine
(zinc silicates and oxides).
Figure 1. The Harz Mountains,
stretching 100 kilometers from
Eisleben (the birthplace of
Martin Luther) through Goslar
(UNESCO World Heritage site
for its historic mines), is located
80 kilometers southeast of
Hannover, Germany. The two
elements discovered in this
region were cadmium and
Another exhibit in the Rammelsberg
Museum provides a spectacular example of
goslarite (Figure 6). This mineral specimen has
the typical appearance of cave formations, but
instead of being composed of calcium carbon-
ate it was formed by the leaching of oxidized
zinc sulfides in the geological layers above to
form zinc sulfate stalactites and stalagmites.
The zinc ores of the Rammelsberg region are
particularly rich in cadmium, the element
immediately below zinc in the Periodic Table. A
special exhibit in the Rammelsberg Museum
shows various hues of cadmium formulations
used in dyes and paints, including the famous
yellows of Vincent van Gogh's (1853-1890)
paintings (Figure 7).
Cadmium was discovered in 1817 by
Friedrich Stromeyer (1776-1835) at the
University of Gottingen.3 Stromeyer was not
only a professor but also General Inspector of
Pharmacies (Apotheken) throughout the
Kingdom of Hannover (stretching from
THE HEXAGON/SPRING 2012
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Marshall, James L., 1940- & Marshall, Virginia R. Rediscovery of the Elements: The Harz Mountains and Göttingen, article, Spring 2012; Indianapolis, Indiana. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc111269/m1/1/: accessed March 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.