Fred Allison

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Fred C. Allison
Born July 4, 1882(1882-07-04)
Glade Spring, Virginia, United States
Died August 2, 1974(1974-08-02) (aged 92)
Auburn, Alabama, United States
Nationality American
Institutions Auburn University
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
University of Virginia
Doctoral advisor Carroll M. Sparrow
Known for Unfounded, erroneous claim to have discovered alabamium, and virginium

Fred C. Allison was an American physicist.[1] Allison developed a magneto-optic spectroscopy method.[2][3][4] that became known as the Allison magneto-optic method. He claimed to have discovered two new elements (later discredited) using this method.[5] He taught at Auburn Department of Physics.[1]

Discovery of alabamium and virginium

From the work of Henry Moseley in 1914, it was known that several elements had not yet been discovered. However, the chemical properties could be deduced from the vacant places in the periodic table of Dmitri Mendeleev. Several scientists claimed the discovery of the missing elements.[6] During Allison's work at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (which became Auburn University), starting in 1930, he developed a method that he believed measured the time dependence of the Faraday Effect. An account of the method has been posted by Mike Epstein.[5] Allison erroneously claimed that he had discovered the two missing elements with his magneto-optic spectroscopy. He claimed to have found element 87, now called francium, in pollucite and lepidolite.[7] He also claimed to have found element 85, now called astatine in monazite sand, a mineral which is rich in rare earth elements and thorium.[8] He named the two elements after the United state states Virginia and Alabama, alabamium and virginium. After several years and several attempts to verify the claims of Allison, the method of magneto-optic spectroscopy was found to be unsuitable for the detection of the new elements.[9] The Allison magneto-optic effect was discussed by Irving Langmuir in his now famous 1953 lecture on Pathological science that was reprinted in Physics Today.[10]


Allison was born in Glade Spring, Virginia July 4, 1882 and earned a degree from Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia in 1904. After teaching at the same college, he decided to join Johns Hopkins University Baltimore for a degree in physics. After several years there (teaching at Emory and Henry and working on his Ph.D. in alternate years) he changed to the University of Virginia and received his Ph.D. in physics in 1920 working with Jesse Beams. In 1922, Allison was invited to create the physics department of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which later became Auburn University. As Dean of the Graduate school, he help found the first Ph.D. programs at the Polytechnic Institute. He stayed at the Polytechnic Institute for 31 years until mandatory retirement. He returned to Emory and Henry College as chair of the science division for three years. This was followed by teaching physics at Huntingdon College from 1956-1968. After this last lecturing position, in 1969 he returned to Auburn University and continued his lab-work until one month before his death on August 2, 1974. The Auburn University Physics building is named in his honor.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Biggs, Lindy; Knowlton, Stephen (07-08-2009). "Fred Allison". The Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 06-09-2009. 
  2. Allison, Fred; Murphy, Edgar (1930). "Evidence of the Presence of Element 87 in Samples of Pollucite and Lepidolite Ores". Physical Review 35 (3): 285. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.35.285.2. 
  3. Allison, Fred; Murphy, Edgar J. (1930). "A Magneto-optic Method of Chemical Analysis". Journal of the American Chemical Society 52 (10): 3796. doi:10.1021/ja01373a005. 
  4. Allison, Fred (1932). "Magneto-optic method of analysis as a new research tool". Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Analytical Edition 4: 9. doi:10.1021/ac50077a005. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Allison Magneto-Optic Method of Chemical Analysis
  6. Kauffman, George B.; Adloff, Jean-Pierre (2008). "Fred Allison's Magneto-Optic Search for Elements 85 and 87". The Chemical Educator 13 (6): 358–364. doi:10.1333/s00897082174a. 
  7. Allison, Fred; Bishop, Edna R.; Sommer, Anna L.; Christensen, J. H. (1932). "Further Research on Element 87". Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (2): 613. doi:10.1021/ja01341a025. 
  8. Allison, Fred; Bishop, Edna R.; Sommer, Anna L. (1932). "Concentrations, Acids and Lithium Salts of Element 85". Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (2): 616. doi:10.1021/ja01341a026. 
  9. Trimble, R. F. (1975). "What happened to alabamine, virginium, and illinium?". J. Chem. Educ. 52 (9): 585. Bibcode 1975JChEd..52..585T. doi:10.1021/ed052p585. 
  10. [Physics Today, October 1989, P. 36]

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