In 1669, phosphorus was discovered by a German alchemist called Henning Brand; almost 350 years later, the periodic table is now completed with 118 elements officially named, all with their own unique tales of discovery.

The final four elements to be named were; 113, 115, 117 and 118 and were done so by IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Similar to most superheavy elements, they were synthetically made by colliding other atoms together which creates unstable short-lived elements.

The four elements with their provisional names. Now known respectively as: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.
The four elements with their provisional names. Now known respectively as: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.

Let’s start with element 113. It was named nihonium (Nh) which is particularly significant as “Nihon” is the Japanese word for Japan as this was the first element to have been discovered in Japan, or even in Asia! Element 115’s new name is moscovium (Mc) which recognises the Moscovian institution at which the element was discovered at. The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia is one of the leading nuclear research facilities which has been involved in the discovery process of eight elements including nobelium.

Tennessine (Ts), provisionally ununseptium, was also named for the same reason as 115, to identify Tennessee as its point of origin and thus to honour its researchers based there. The final and heaviest element, 118, has been named oganesson (Og) to recognise Prof. Yuri Oganessian for his work on superheavy element research and discovering flevorium.

Neptunium was named after the planet which in turn was named after the Roman god of oceans
Neptunium was named after the planet which in turn was named after the Roman god of oceans

When new elements are discovered by researchers and the naming process begins, the public usually likes to get involved with their own suggestions; however, it is a strict process which takes place with certain guidelines. For example, in light of the recent public vote, to name a polar research vessel, Boaty McBoatface-ium would not be allowed and neither would Lemmy-ium (a publically suggested name after the recently deceased Motörhead frontman). Any new element, according to IUPAC guidelines, must be named after:

The symbol for mercury is Hg, which stands for hydragyrum meaning liquid silver due to its appearance.
The symbol for mercury is Hg, which stands for hydragyrum meaning liquid silver due to its appearance.
  1. A mythological or astronomical concept
  2. A mineral (lithium comes from the Greek “lithos” which means stone)
  3. A geographical region or place (americium was discovered in Chicago in the United States)
  4. A certain property of an element (an example of this is the symbol for mercury, Hg, which stands for hydragyrum meaning liquid silver due to its appearance)
  5. A scientist (such as einsteinium or nobelium)

Do you like the names chosen for the elements? Could you have chosen a better one? Feel free to comment below with your suggestions for new element names that follow the IUPAC guidelines.

Luke Norman

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Featured image by Shadow Byrd via flickr
Elements images by Science Activism via flickr (adaptations have been made to this image)
Neptune image by Dennis Jarvis via flickr
Mercury image by StevenBrace via flickr

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