We all know that naming a new baby is never easy; everyone has their opinion and arguments often arise when deciding on a suitable moniker. In a similar way, the naming of new elements on the periodic table is subject to a lot of discussion and comment involving a vast range of constraints, and a committee solely dedicated to the process. Despite the difficulty and length of the process, four new elements now have proper names that honor the places and people essential to their discovery.
Charged with deciding the labels for the newly discovered elements with the atomic numbers, 113, 115, 117, and 118 (previously known as ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium, respectively) was the US-based Inorganic Chemistry Division of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) who, after a considerable consultative process (completed on December 30, 2015), have now launched a list of names to be subject to a final five-month public review.
And if you think floating names to your relatives is tough, just be glad you don't have complications inherent in naming new elements. Conventions dictate that new elements can be named after a mythological concept or character (including an astronomical object); a mineral or similar substance; a place, or geographical region; a property of the element; or a scientist.
Added to this, the ending of names must also adhere to guidelines around historical and chemical consistency, so that "-ium" ends names of elements that are part of groups 1-16, on the periodic table, while those finishing with "-ine" are specified for elements of group 17, and the "-on" suffix represents elements in group 18. To top it all off, the labels in English must also allow for correct translation into other prime languages.
Now that this exhaustive collection of conditions have been met, the proposed new names are nihonium, with the symbol Nh, for element 113; moscovium, with the symbol Mc, for element 115; tennessine, given the symbol Ts, for the element 117; and oganesson, with the symbol Og, for element 118.
The first three elements are named for their places of discovery, and the last is named for a scientist affiliated with the area of study the element is associated with – Professor Yuri Oganessian, renowned for his groundbreaking research into transactinoid elements. Such elements are those that are the artificially produced radioactive elements with the atomic numbers 104 to 121.
As for the other atomic elements, nihonium with the symbol Nh and number 113 on the periodic table has been named for its Japanese discoverers who created it in a particle accelerator by bombarding bismuth with zinc ions traveling at about one-tenth the speed of light. Element 113 is the first to have been discovered in an Asian country and Nihon is one of the two ways to say "Japan" in Japanese.
The next two names are fairly self-explanatory with moscovium (element 115, symbol Mc) honoring Moscow, and tennessine (117, symbol Ts) representing the US state of Tennessee. These names were proposed jointly by scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna (Russia), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA), Vanderbilt University (USA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA), who worked together to find the new elements.
"It is a pleasure to see that specific places and names related to the new elements is recognized in these four names," says Jan Reedijk from IUPAC, who requested name proposals from the discoverers. "Although these choices may perhaps be viewed by some as slightly self-indulgent, the names are completely in accordance with IUPAC rules. In fact, I see it as thrilling to recognize that international collaborations were at the core of these discoveries and that these new names also make the discoveries somewhat tangible."
After the final hurdle of public review is completed on November 8, 2016, and all things go well, the approved names will be published in the IUPAC journal Pure and Applied Chemistry. Information about public commentary can be found here.