33 No. 4
Following the recent finding of the Joint Working Party (JWP) of IUPAC and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), scientists from the Dubna-Livermore collaborations have been invited to propose a name for element 114 and for element 116 (see article).
IUPAC and its members are often asked what’s next? How will the elements be named?
Well, over the last 20 years the process of naming new elements has left the chemistry and physics communities with quite a few lessons learned. Fortunately, these lessons have been transformed into clear procedures. First, IUPAC established criteria that must be satisfied for the discovery of a new chemical element to be recognized.1 Then it formulated a clear path for naming the newly recognized element.2
The way the process works in practice is that a JWP of IUPAC and IUPAP publish an analysis of the claims for the synthesis of a new element. After credit is determined, the assigned laboratory is invited to propose a name and symbol for the element. This proposal is then reviewed by the IUPAC Inorganic Chemistry Division and is followed by the dissemination of a provisional recommendation and public review procedure before final recommendations are endorsed by IUPAC Council.
In 2003, this stepwise procedure resulted in the naming of element 110 as darmstadtium (Ds), recognizing the city of Darmstadt where the element was discovered. In 2004, element 111 was named roentgenium (Rg), recalling Wilhem Conrad Roentgen’s revolutionary discovery of X-rays. In 2010, the element 112 was named copernicium (Cn) to salute Nicolaus Copernicus’ influencial work.
The transparency in this process is such that fans of the periodic table who are eagerly anticipating the christening of new elements can rest assured that ununquadium (i.e., element 114 or Uuq) and ununhexium (element 116 or Uuh) will soon be replaced with “real” names.
According to IUPAC recommendations,2 in keeping with tradition, elements can be named after a mythological concept or character; a mineral, or similar substance; a place or geographical region; a property of the element; or a scientist. Also, for linguistic consistency, the names of all new elements should end in ‘-ium’.
I’m no historian, but I like to think that the periodic table mirrors the history of chemistry somewhat; likewise, how new elements are named may be a reflection on our present time. Will the names inspire future generations to look at science as an amazing puzzle, an important challenge? Stay tuned—the wait for the two new official names won’t be much longer.
1. Pure Appl. Chem. 63(6), pp. 879-886, 1991; doi:10.1351/pac199163060879
2. Pure Appl. Chem. 74(5), pp. 787–791, 2002; doi:10.1351/pac200274050787
last modified 8 July 2011.
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