Meitnerium is a metallic chemical element classified among the transactinides on the periodic table of elements. Like other transactinide elements, meitnerium is among the heaviest of chemical elements, and it is both extremely unstable and radioactive. Because this element is so unstable, it cannot be found in nature; researchers who wish to work with it must synthesize it in a laboratory by bombarding other elements in a linear accelerator. Given the fact that only a few atoms of this element can be produced at a time, there are no commercial uses for meitnerium.
In addition to being classified as a transactinide, meitnerium is also considered a transuranic element, which means that it has an atomic number higher than that of uranium. The existence of such elements was hypothesized at least as far back as the 1930s, with numerous physicists dedicating a great deal of time to the identification of such elements. Transuranic elements are notoriously unstable, however, making it difficult to study them as they quickly decay into more stable elements; very precise scientific equipment is required to register their presence during their brief existence.
The chemical properties of meitnerium are not really known, since it only exists for a few milliseconds at a time in the lab. It is believed to be similar to iridium chemically, leading some people to refer to it as eka-iridium. The element is identified with the symbol Mt on the periodic table, and it has an atomic number of 109.
Credit for the discovery of element 109 is given to a team of German scientists, led by Peter Armbruster and Gottfrief Munzenburg. The researchers identified meitnerium in Darmstadt, Germany in 1982 after bombarding bismuth with iron. They proposed the name “meitnerium” for the element, in honor of noted Austrian scientist Lise Meitner; this name was accepted by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in 1997.
Lise Meitner is an interesting figure historically, as like many women in science, her contributions to the scientific community were not always recognized during her lifetime. She was one of the original pioneers to work with heavy elements, and she was a member of the German scientific team which discovered nuclear fission. Meitner was also Jewish, and she has been criticized in retrospect for failing to act during the rise of Nazi Germany; in 1946, she expressed profound regret for not making efforts on behalf of the Jewish community during her time in Germany.