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Time to update science textbooks: New names proposed for 4 elements

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the gatekeeper to the periodic table, has announced the proposed names for elements 113, 115, 117 and 118: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.

The new names for the four superheavy, radioactive elements will replace the seventh row’s uninspired placeholders of ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium.

IUPAC officially recognized the elements in December and gave naming rights to teams of scientists from the United States, Russia and Japan, who made the discoveries.

The proposed names had to follow IUPAC rules and are now available for public review. People have until November 8 to object to the proposals, and IUPAC has the final say.

Nihonium, symbol Nh, was discovered by scientists at the Riken institute in Japan. They are the first from Asia to earn the right to propose an addition to the table.

Celebrating Japan

The name comes from “Nihon”, which is one of the two Japanese words for Japan. The other word, “Nippon”, made its way to versions of the periodic table in 1908 as element 43, nipponium, but was never officially accepted.

At the time, researchers were unable to replicate the experiments of Masataka Ogawa, a Japanese chemist who isolated the element. Two decades later, it was revealed that Mr. Masataka had in fact found a new element: element 75, by then already known as rhenium.

The team that discovered element 113 told IUPAC that they had chosen nihonium in part to honour the work of Mr. Masataka. “We expect if kids know there is an element that a Japanese group discovered, the number who get interested in science will increase,” Kosuke Morita, who headed the research group that discovered the element, said.

A trio of research institutions — the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), in Russia; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee; and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California — were given the right to propose names for elements 115 and 117.

Moscovium, symbol Mc, is named for Moscow, which is near the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Tennessine, symbol Ts, gets its name from the state of Tennessee, where Oak Ridge National Laboratory is. After californium, it is the second element named for one of the 50 states.

Naming rights for element 118 belonged to the same Russian researchers and the Americans from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

They selected Oganesson, symbol Og, for Yuri Oganessian, who helped discover several superheavy elements.

If accepted, it will be only the second time that an element is named for a living person. The first was element 106, seaborgium, named for Glenn T. Seaborg.

These new elements were discovered using the “hot fusion” approach, developed and implemented by Oganessian at JINR.

The names may disappoint some people, like the 150,000 heavy-metal music fans who signed a petition to get element 115 named “lemmium” after Lemmy Kilmister of the band Motorhead.

About 50,000 Terry Pratchett book lovers wanted element 117 to be named “octarine,” and New York Times readers suggested “trumpium” and “godzillium” for the new elements. — New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 6:49:32 PM |

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