Friday, April 9, 2010

The myth of 117

Scientists have discovered a new element! The latest super-heavy element that completes another row (7th period) in the periodic table! Isn't it a big deal? Well... apparently not that much... The biggest problem is, it doesn't even have a name yet.

This new 117-proton element is temporarily called ununseptium, a Latin placeholder that refers to the number 117. (That sounds lame! How about nilnilseptium?) The last element to be formally named was Copernicium (Cn), Element #112. It received its official name and symbol earlier this year, more than a decade after it was initially produced in 1996. Why so long? First, it had to wait until its existence was confirmed at other laboratories. Then, the process to get an official name at the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) could be lengthy and highly political. During the Cold War, the naming of elements 104-106 aroused a huge controversy between an American group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a Soviet group at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna in the 1960s. The Americans wanted to name 106 after American chemist Glenn T. Seaborg, while the Russians wanted to name 104 Kurchatovium to honor their own atomic bomb pioneer Igor Kurchatov. It was as late as 1997 when IUPAC finally decided on the names. To avoid such controversy, the German discoverers of 112 proposed in July 2009 a neutral name Copernicium to honor Nicolaus Copernicus. But IUPAC still delayed the official recognition, pending the results of a six-month discussion period among the scientific community until February 2010.

For this newbie 117, people in Twitterville already started the attempts to name it. To list a few of my favorites so far: Putinium, Pandorium, Yummium, Awesomium, Howmanyelementsdoweneedium, Oneseventeenium, DeLoreum, Gymnasium, Auditorium, Wadafucium, Holycrapium...

1 comment:

Christopher Baxter said...

I got a name for it: "Haloium", in honor of Sahara 117 (aka Master Chief) from the Halo games.