A week ago, the four new elements of the periodic table discovered in December 2015 were named: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson, with the respective symbols Nh, Mc, Ts and Og respectively. These are elements 113, 115, 117 and 118, the final elements required to complete the table’s seventh row.
The names were proposed by the discoverers and accepted by IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. They are now open for public review, to ensure that there are no chemicals currently given these names or symbols. This review is open for five months, until November 2016, and then the names will be formally approved by IUPAC. Elements can be named after a mythical concept, a mineral, a country, a property or a scientist. The associated symbol has to be completely unique and not be used for any other element, molecule or material.
Nihonium was discovered by a Japanese team at the Riken Institute called Kosuke Morita’s group and is thought to be a metal. They named the element after one of the Japanese ways of saying Japan which means ‘land of the rising sun’. This is the country the element was first synthesised in, the first Asian country to discover a new element. Moscovium and Tennessine were jointly named by their discoverers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US. Moscovium is named after Moscow, the home of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, and Tennessine is named for Tennessee, where the other two labs are. They are thought to be metal and metalloid respectively. Oganesson, a potential noble gas, was also discovered by this team, and was named to honour Yuri Oganessian, whose research greatly advanced superheavy elements research.
The new elements, and all elements heavier than element 104, are called the superheavy elements. They are unstable, and as they are not found in nature they must be synthesised by bombarding heavy metals with beams of ions. They were detected by measuring the radiation they produced as they decayed. The nuclei produced don’t last long, so it’s a race against time to gather enough data to prove the element has been created.
Laboratories are already working on the search for new elements beyond the seventh row, although this may require better technology than is currently available. In these cases, material being bombarded must also be superheavy, but this means that it would also have a short life time and its synthesis could take years. More ions must also hit this material, which currently would burn the detector.
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 8th June 2016, IUPAC is naming the four new elements Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson, http://iupac.org/elements.html (accessed 08/06/2016)
Matthew Gunther, RSC Chemistry World, 8th June 2016, IUPAC announces proposed new elements names, http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2016/06/iupac-announces-proposed-new-element-names (accessed 08/06/2016)
The Guardian, 4th July 2016, Periodic Table’s Seventh Row Finally Filled as Four New Elements are Added, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/04/periodic-tables-seventh-row-finally-filled-as-four-new-elements-are-added (accessed 08/06/2016)