After featuring quite prominently in the slickly made AMC show Breaking Bad, the Periodic Table was once again in the news recently. But this time for reasons slightly more aligned to its actual context.
Four new chemical elements were added to the chart which is generally symbolic with textbook chemistry. The addition of the new elements completes the seventh row of the table that was first published in 1869 by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.
The president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry ), Professor Jan Reedijk told The Guardian that, "The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row."
The last time new elements were added was in 2011. Incidentally, this is also the first time an element has been discovered by scientists working in Asia.
The new additions are numbered:
113 (Uut or element 113)
115 (Uup, element 115)
117 (Uus, element 117)
118 (Uuo, element 118).
All four are radioactive "super-heavy" elements. They have temporary names assigned on the basis of the number of protons each contains in its nucleus: ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium.
All four elements were discovered, to put it rather simply, by banging light nuclei with each other and then tracking their following decay. Most of these super-heavy elements tend to be unstable and decay extremely fast.
The Wall Street Journal quotes a statement by Paul J. Karol, nuclear chemist at Carnegie Mellon University: "A particular difficulty in establishing these new elements is that they decay into hitherto unknown isotopes of slightly lighter elements that also need to be unequivocally identified."
While the IUPAC gave credit for the discovery of element 113 to a Japanese team from Riken Institute, the credit for the others went to a team of Russian and American researchers: Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, USA; and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.
So the elements have been discovered right? Well now comes the relatively easy task of naming them on a permanent basis. Researchers are usually given the freedom to take a call on what to name them, including the 2-letter symbols. In fact, international rules actually allow for names to be based on mythological creatures, minerals, scientists, or places.
The proposed names are then checked by the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC "for consistency, translatability into other languages, possible prior historic use for other cases, etc."
After clearance from the Division, the suggestions are next given for a public review for five months. Only after this is a final call taken on the names. When Element 112 was discovered before this, it was formally named 'Copernicium', to honour Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
In a statement on their website, the president of IUPAC, Dr Mark C. Cesa said, "we are excited about these new elements, and we thank the dedicated scientists who discovered them for their painstaking work, as well the members of the IUPAC/ IUPAP Joint Working Party for completing their essential and critically important task."
Hmmm, so what would you name these four new elements?
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