Updated: Jul 21
#33 Science in History
6th February 1886
On this day in 1886, the element germanium is discovered.
In 1886, a German chemist, Clemens Winkler, discovered the element germanium. The element had been predicted to exist by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev 15 years earlier. Mendeleev had given it a placeholder name, eka-silicon (‘eka’ is Sanskrit for “one” so is one place away from silicon) and placed it between silicon and tin in group 14 of the periodic table.
In the 1880s, Winkler was studying the mineral argyrodite, a silver sulphide ore, and found that he could not account for 7% of it using information of known elements. He was able to isolate the unknown material and determine its atomic weight, leading to its official recognition as a new element. Winkler named the new element after his native country – eka-silicon became germanium.
Germanium has many important uses in modern technology, including as a component in transistors, solar cells, and fibre optic systems. No doubt, without Winkler's discovery, the development of these technologies would have been delayed or, maybe, not possible.