I was reading quite a well-known paper titled 'Relativistic Effects in Structural Chemistry' by PEKKA PYYKKO, and in it, he states that 'it was not until the 1970s that the full relevance of relativistic effects in heavy-element chemistry was discovered.'

I was just wondering if anyone could explain to me from the perspective of a chemist in the early twentieth century who would not have considered the importance of relativistic effects, what were some commonly observed phenomena that at the time chemists were unable to explain, but that today we know can easily explain using special relativity. For instance I am aware that some chemical differences between silver and gold received a great deal of attention during the history of chemistry, although I am not quite sure why.

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    $\begingroup$ Pyykkö has a related review article, Relativistic Effects in Chemistry: More Common Than You Thought (annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/…) in which he gives a comprehensive treatement of the subject, mentioning far more than gold and silver: "Relativistic effects can strongly influence the chemical and physical properties of heavy elements and their compounds. This influence has been noted in inorganic chemistry textbooks for a couple of decades....[continued] $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Feb 2, 2021 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ ....This review provides both traditional and new examples of these effects, including the special properties of gold, lead-acid and mercury batteries, the shapes of gold and thallium clusters, heavy-atom shifts in NMR, topological insulators, and certain specific heats." Why don't you see if you can get access to that paper (it's behind a paywall, but your local library can probably help), and read through it? That would seem to be the best starting point. Then if there's anything you don't understand, you could ask about it here. $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Feb 2, 2021 at 5:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the paper it would be a great start for me! $\endgroup$
    – DJA
    Feb 2, 2021 at 13:09


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