How can an element be lost? Scientists, and the general public, have always thought of them as being found, or discovered. However, more elements have been “undiscovered” than discovered, more “lost” than found.
In the popular imagination, science proceeds with great leaps of discovery — new planets, new cures, new elements. In reality, though, science is a long, grueling process of trial and error, in which tantalizing false discoveries constantly arise and vanish on further examination. These failures can teach us as much — or more — than its successes.
The periodic table has experienced many revisions over time as new elements have been discovered and the methods of organizing them have been solidified. Sometimes when scientists tried to fill in gaps where missing elements were predicted to reside in the periodic table, or when they made even the smallest of errors in their experiments, they came up with discoveries—often fabricated or misconstrued—that are so bizarre they could have never actually found a home in our current version of the periodic table.
Dmitri Mendeleev believed he was a great scientist and indeed he was. He was not actually recognized as such until his periodic table achieved worldwide diffusion and began to appear in textbooks of general chemistry and in other major publications.