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Four New Elements Are Added to the Periodic Table

Superheavy elements round out the seventh row of the periodic table

(Carol & Mike Werner/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Sorry, chemistry teachers—your periodic table posters are now obsolete.

Groups of scientists in the United States, Russia and Japan had more to celebrate last week than New Year’s, when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced the addition of four new elements to the periodic table. Now that elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 have been formally recognized, the chart’s seventh row is officially complete.

“The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row,” Professor Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC, said in a statement.

This marks the first time that new elements have been added to the table since 2011, when it was updated to include elements 114 (Flerovium) and 116 (Livermorium), Lin Taylor reports for CNN. In the announcement, the IUPAC credited a joint Russian-American team with the discovery of elements 115, 117 and 118, while scientists from Japan’s Riken Institute were given credit for finding 113.

Now, that doesn’t mean that these four elements were all discovered last week. In order to get a coveted spot on the periodic table, a newly-discovered element has to be double-checked by researchers at the IUPAC. However, superheavy elements like these (so-called because of the high number of protons each atoms contains) are highly unstable and only exist in labs for a fraction of a second at a time, making them difficult to verify, Rachel Feltman reports for the Washington Post.

"For over seven years we continued to search for data conclusively identifying element 113, but we just never saw another event. I was not prepared to give up, however, as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again," Kosuke Morita, lead researcher for the Riken Institute group tells Taylor. Thanks to his team’s work, element 113 will be the first to be named in Asia.

Now that the four new elements are recognized, the scientists responsible for finding them can officially name them. Until now, the four elements were referred to by their tongue-twisting placeholder names: ununtrium (element 113), ununpentium (element 115), ununseptium (element 117), and ununoctium (element 118).

According to the IUPAC, new elements can be named after their own properties, mythological concepts, minerals, places or countries, or scientists, The Guardian reports. Once the proposed names are submitted, the IUPAC will give them a once-over to make sure they are pronounceable in several different languages and are consistent with the rest of the periodic table, Feltman writes.

“To scientists, this is of greater value than an Olympic gold medal,” former Riken president and Nobel laureate in chemistry Ryoji Noyori tells The Guardian.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any more superheavy elements out there to be discovered. The seventh row of the Periodic Table may be full, but scientists are already hard at work trying to fill in the eighth.

"Now that we have conclusively demonstrated the existence of element 113, we plan to look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond," Morita tells Taylor.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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