Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Name That Element!

Four new elements, discovered in the last year or so and officially recognized last December, have been given their new names. Each was previously known by its atomic weight, translated into Latin. Element 113, for example, was called ununtrium. It will now be known as nihonium. It was synthesized by a Japanese research team and thus the usual conventions of element naming note that: "Nihon" is a name for Japan. In English, it means, "Land of the Rising Sun."

Element 115 will be called "moscovium," element 117 "tennesine" and element 118 "oganesson." Its name doesn't honor a place but a scientist. Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian was responsible for the discovery of several of these "heavy" elements. If you're wondering about the missing numbers, elements 114, "flerovium" and 116, "livermorium," had already been discovered.

The names are on trial for five months for a public review and discussion by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The public review is only a period of comment and question rather than one of submission. As the Science News story notes, there will be no repeat of the National Environmental Research Council's silly "Boaty McBoatface" headache.

Which is good. Because if Donald Trump were to win in November, you know he would demand one of those elements -- if not all four -- be named after him. And if Hillary Clinton were to win, she would demand be named after the highest bidder and whoever could make this whole State Department e-mail thing go away.

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