The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially approved the four proposed element names on November 28, 2016.
Discovering a new element is no small task. But when the work pays of, the finders are the namers for elements in the periodic table.
This past January, scientists confirmed the discovery of four new elements. And speculations soon began over their names. Now, after months of waiting, the official submissions are finally in.
The discovery of new elements is extremely rare. All natural elements have already been found, so scientists are venturing into the world of synthesized compounds. But if they do strike gold and discover a new element, the research is then scrutinized by the IUPAC, the organization that sets the standards for chemists around the world.
The path to confirming the elements is not short. While IUPAC announced the four new elements in early 2016, the actual research had been done a number of years ago, reports Gunther. But once the research is evaluated and confirmed, it falls to the elements’ discoverers to think up their names.
The new names all tip their hats to people and places that were significant to the scientists. The Japanese research team from the RIKEN scientific institute decided to name element 113 “nihonium,” after a Japanese word for “Japan.” The other three new elements were discovered by a joint group made up of Russian scientists from the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Moscow and American researchers from the Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
The Russian group chose to name element 115 “moscovium” after their country’s capital city, while the Americans dubbed element 117 “tennessine” after the state of Tennessee. The last of the new elements, 118, was named “oganesson” after a Russian scientist named Yuri Oganessian—the leader of the team that discovered tennessine and one of the few living scientists to get an element named after them, Richard Van Noorden reports for Nature.
“It is a pleasure to see that specific places and names (country, state, city, and scientist) related to the new elements is recognized in these four names,” IUPAC representative Jan Reedijk said in a statement. “In fact, I see it as thrilling to recognize that international collaborations were at the core of these discoveries and that these new names also make the discoveries somewhat tangible.”
While some people may be disappointed that the names aren’t quite as fun or exciting as other recent discoveries, like the spider named after physicist Brian Greene or the newly-seen features of Pluto named after sci-fi characters, element names have strict standards.
According to the IUPAC, new elements can be named after mythological concepts or characters, minerals, a place or geographical region, a property of the element, or a scientist. That means that no matter how many people signed a petition to have one of the new elements Lemmium after the late musician Lemmy Kilmister, it wasn’t going to happen, Brian Resnick writes for Vox.
Now that these four new names have been proposed, IUPAC will submit them for a five-month public review before officially inscribing them on the periodic table. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that researchers are already hard at work finding the next new element.