You Can Call Me 114
The first periodic table, 1869-1871. Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library, photo by Douglas Lockard. Elements 114 and 116, as yet unnamed, were officially added June 1.
It’s an exciting – and rare – moment when a new element is discovered, so the announcement on June 1 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry recognizing two new elements was kind of a big deal. 114 and 116 have officially been added to the lower right corner of the periodic table, taking their place near the most recently named new element, copernicium (112). Credit for the discovery will be shared by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
It’s not easy to have an element officially recognized. The process is practically on par with sainthood: three years data review from the two laboratories preceded this announcement. Of course, the two elements didn’t make things very easy for scientists: 116 lasts only milliseconds before it decays into 114, and 114 lasts less than a second before it decays into 112. Because these elements are so unstable, little is known about their properties. Right now, most people are just talking about their names.
Naming elements can be contentious. Generally, naming rights go to the discoverer, but that assumes he or she can be unambiguously identified. A controversy erupted in the 1960s between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., for example, over the naming rights to elements 104, 105, and 106. The argument became so fierce that it became known as the “Transfermium Wars” (the elements in question appeared after fermium on the periodic table). The debate was settled (rutherfordium, dubnium, and seaborgium, if you were wondering) in ever-neutral Switzerland – but not until 1997.
114 and 116’s discovering teams in Russia and California have been invited to make naming suggestions to IUPAC, and the scientific world has been buzzing with suggestions, many of which lean towards the ridiculous. My personal favorite comes from Wired’s GeekDad blog, where Kevin Makice suggests “brownium” after Dr. Emmett Brown of Back to the Future, pondering a more efficient Flux Capacitor running on an isotope larger than plutonium.
Brownium is a long shot, but I’ll be watching for news in the next few years. Yes, I said years – this is going to take awhile.
Gigi Naglak is Outreach Coordinator at CHF’s Eddleman Institute.
The Path to the Periodic Table [CHF]
Public Understanding of the Periodic Table [Periodic Tabloid]