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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Learning the elements just got tougher

    While UA students were sleeping until noon and eating holiday treats, recovering from a long first semester, chemists around the world were hard at work making ground-breaking discoveries.

    The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry announced its approval of four new elements. Scientists from the U.S., Russia and Japan received credit for the discovery of elements 113, 115, 117 and 118—all of which have yet to be given a formal name.

    The periodic elements are the building blocks of the natural world; without them, life as we know it would not exist. Changes to the periodic table receive international attention and scientists who discover new elements win Nobel Prizes.

    Each of the four new elements, formally approved on Dec. 30, are synthetic. None of the four are naturally occurring and even the synthetic versions exist only for an instant before decaying. Odds are you won’t conduct any experiments with the newbies in your organic chemistry class.

    Every chemical element carries its own unique history, shaped by the scientists who discovered it. Some elements have names associated with the places they were discovered, while others are named for ancient myths or legends. Still, more elements are named in honor of famous scientists or after their unique chemical properties.

    Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 will be named in the upcoming months, and we can only speculate what they will eventually be called. Below is a list of suggestions for the newly approved elements, inspired by the names of elements that already exist. Perhaps we’ll see these names appear in the periodic table in the near future.

    • Researchers synthesized Berkelium (Bk) in 1949 at—you guessed it—the University of California, Berkeley. Element 113 was discovered by a team from Japan’s RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science. With this in mind, “Rikenium” seems an appropriate name for Element 113.
    • Einsteinium was named to honor the great Albert Einstein, a German physicist who changed the world of science with his revolutionary theories. Element 115 could therefore be named “Darwinium” after the famous Charles Darwin, whose studies in evolutionary biology were made possible by the elements that compose the periodic table.
    • The Scandinavian god of thunder, Thor, provides the inspiration for Element 90: thorium (Th). Scientists predict that thorium will eventually replace uranium as the key component of nuclear reactors. The discovery of Element 117 involved a nuclear physics concept known as “island of stability,” which brings to mind water and oceans. In recognition of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, it might be called “Poseidium.”
    • Some elements, like chlorine, are named for their properties. “Chloros” is the Greek term for pale green, and gaseous chlorine is also green. Therefore, Element 118 could be named “Polarizabilium,” since it is predicted to be the most polarizable of all previously discovered elements.

    Follow Elizabeth Hannah on Twitter.

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