Looks like we’re going to have to get a new copy of our chemistry textbooks. If you’ve got a copy with the periodic table in front of you have a peek at the last row. See something a little odd after number 112? Those chemical elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 have rather unusual names, all of which start with unun. That’s because the newest elements of the periodic table only joined the party on 30 December 2015 when they were confirmed by the The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Council, and up to this point are yet to be named.
But all that’s about to change – IUPAC has published provisional recommendations for their names, and barring any awkward situations, the new superheavy elements will be called nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.
Elementary my dear Watson
Elements 113, 115 and 117 (nihonium, moscovium, tennessine respectively) have all been named in honour of the place they were discovered, Japan (nihon meaning “land of the rising sun”), Moscow and Tennessee. But element oganesson (number 118) is named in recognition of the Russian scientist Yuri Oganessian, who will be only the second scientist to have an element named after them whilst they are still alive (after Seaborgium).
Professor Oganessian, from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, was one of the first to recognise the necessity of international collaboration if the seventh row of the periodic table was to be completed, so the nod given seems perfectly apt now that this mission is complete. He also developed the technique of hot fusion (which would also make a great name for a jazz band), which involves smashing lighter atomic nuclei together to create new superheavy elements.
The elements will now undergo a five-month statutory review for anybody to voice any disagreements, but hopefully by the end of the year we can add Nh, Mc, Ts and Og to the periodic table.