New Element Discovered! But Don't Ask About Its Name

By Smriti Rao | April 6, 2010 5:39 pm

element-117-279x300A little square that has been left blank on the periodic table for all these years might finally be filled in. A team of American and Russian scientists have just reported the synthesis of a brand new element–element 117. Says study coauthor Dawn Shaughnessy: “For a chemist, it’s so fundamentally cool” to fill a square in that table [The New York Times].

If other scientists confirm the discovery, the still-unnamed element will take its place between elements 116 and 118, both of which have already been tracked down. A paper about element 117 will soon be published in Physical Review Letters, and scientists say the new element appears to point the way toward a brew of still more massive elements with chemical properties no one can predict [The New York Times].

Element 117 was born in a particle accelerator in Russia, where the scientists smashed together calcium-48 — an isotope with 20 protons and 28 neutrons — and berkelium-249, which has 97 protons and 152 neutrons. The collisions spit out either three or four neutrons, creating two different isotopes of an element with 117 protons [Science News].

The new element 117, takes it place between two superheavy elements that scientists know to be very radioactive and that decay almost instantly. But many researchers think it is possible that even heavier elements may occupy an “island of stability” in which superheavy atoms stick around for a while [Science News]. If this theory holds up, scientists say, the work could generate an array of strange new materials with as yet unimagined scientific and practical uses [New York Times].

The excitement continues for the scientists who toiled to synthesize the new element, as they wait to hear what it will be named. Usually, a new element is named after someone or someplace involved in the research. The element berekelium, which was used in the experiment, was named after the University of California at Berkeley, where it was first synthesized, while element 112 was just recently named Copernicium in honor of the 16th century scientist Nicholas Copernicus.

So far, the scientists have been exceptionally mum about what the element might be called. Yuri Oganessian, a nuclear physicist at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and the lead author on the paper, said in an e-mail message: “Naming elements is a serious question; in fact…This takes years” [New York Times]. His silence is reinforced by team member Shaughnessy, who was equally cagey about possible names for the new element: “We’ve never discussed names because it’s sort of like bad karma…It’s like talking about a no hitter during the no hitter. We’ve never spoken of it aloud” [New York Times].

Till the element is confirmed and it takes its formal place on the periodic table, scientists say it shall simply be referred to as element 117–or by the Latin reference to its number, ununseptium.

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Image:Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • Michelle

    Forgive me for my uneducated comment…but…isn’t creating an element…bad? I mean, this element would never of existed without human interference…am I wrong? :/

  • Rene

    To Michelle:

    Your comment is one I hear a lot, and I think it is a concern that many people have whenever something new comes along. The argument is, if humans created it, i.e. it is not “natural”, it must be bad. I think people have to think about what logic brings them to that conclusion. Humans make all sorts of things. Practically everything we do every day is “unnatural”. Clothes, cars, shampoo, shaving, houses, beds, and on and on. “Human interference” made toilets, toothbrushes, and medications. Are all of these things “bad”? Being able to make new things is in fact why humans are the most successful animal on the planet.

    More specifically about this particular creation, though, making a new element helps us to understand how the world around us is made up. This in turn allows us to make novel materials and processes. By the way, humans have made many new elements in the past, this isn’t anywhere near the first time.

  • scribbler

    I will take a slightly different approach…

    Could making these elements lead to unexpected catastophe? Yes, it is possible. It isn’t very probable. The nice thing about these elements is that they can only be made with extreme amounts of power and human effort. Therefore there isn’t but a few atoms in existence at a time. It is possible that such tiny amounts of material could have unexpected catastrophic effects but it isn’t at all very probable.

    The time to worry is if they find a way to weaponize any potential new atom and produce it in quantity, in my opinion.

    I agree that compared to much we do, this is very safe.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    It would be neat to see the ancient Arabian scientist Alhazen honored with an elemental name, maybe alhazenium. His ‘Book of Optics” has been ranked with Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books of physics.

    And he did it in 1000 C.E.

  • Dave

    Creating new elements isn’t “bad,” in my opinion. Scientists are using what nature has provided for them to create something new, to both study how the universe works and to improve our life on Earth. Hell, in ten years this new element could have everyday applications. It could end up in computers, or automobiles, or, I dunno, fibers in your socks or something.

    Besides, in an infinite universe, it’s probable that the element does exist somewhere already. It’s sort of like what the folks at CERN are doing… they’re using advanced technology to synthesize natural phenomena that don’t happen to occur around here, for the simple purpose of better understanding those phenomena.

    Although I have to admit that if they destroy the Earth I will be really pissed.

  • sean

    call it ‘whatthehelium’.

  • Robbins Mitchell

    [This comment has been deleted due to its unacceptable racism.]

  • Tracey

    Woah, previous comment so inappropriate. Please delete!

    We all know it’s gonna be called unobtainium!

  • http://www.Team-tcp.com Doug from Dougland

    Why not name it after Michelle’s line of thinking? Call it “homeopathium” or “chiropractum” … maybe “organicum”

  • humble reader

    @Michelle

    most likely ‘ununseptium’ decays rapidly, i.e will not stick
    around long enough to cause damage. these new elements
    are made only in small quantities and their decay modes
    are the same as naturally occuring radioactive elements
    so nothing new there. it’s also quite possible that these heavy
    elements are also made transiently by neutron capture
    channels in supernovae, but since they decay so rapidly
    then never survived to accrete along with other material
    to form later generation stellar systems like ours, thus we
    find only more stable isotopes of Fe, U, Th… on earth.

  • ChH

    I thought the Island of Stability was around element 109-112, with around 180 neutrons.
    Is this article proposing another Island of Stability?

    Also, to those discussing “unnatural” elements – I’m sure elements like these and all kinds of other weird things we’ve never imagined happen during supernovas – there’s just no way to detect that they’ve happened.

  • Marcelo

    The “new elements” are new for us because we don’t know it. But they are been created every moment all around the universe. They have existed, exist and will exist.
    The creation of elements will not cause a catastrophe principally because it is not posiblle to do a considerable amount of it but only some atoms. They are so unstable that exist only few instants. There are much more danger in manteinance of the particle acelerator.
    For this elements the first step is to do it once, the second is prove it can be do again, and the third is handle it (stabilize it so we can do some amount).
    We all hope those advance in science become in benefits for humanity. And certainly “whatthellium” is a very good name.

  • Kathleen

    We should call it Wonderflonium, of course.

  • http://msn.com Walrusgajoob

    Did a Discover writer just us the word “Till?” And use an improper contraction?

  • GordNYC

    “Till the element is confirmed”?

    “Till”?!?

    “Till” is a verb meaning to prepare land for the planting of crops, or a noun meaning unsorted glacial sediment.

    It is NOT a shortened form of “until”. That would be spelled with only one “l”, and have an apostrophe before it.

    This is not the type of typographical error or misuse I’d expect to see in Discover magazine.

  • Anna

    Actually, “till” is correct–and is actually an older word than “until” and not a shortened form of it. See usage note here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/till As well as this discussion: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-unt1.htm

  • ChH

    Seeing as all known isotopes of this element rapidly undergo fission, I think they should name it “Simpsonium” in honor of fission power plant operators everywhere.

  • Mr. Owl

    Knowing Barack Obama’s recent wave of success, they’ll probably name it in honor of him! XD They’ll call it… Barackium, or Husseinium, or…Obamanium! :P

  • Gbenga Alara

    There is nothing new under the Sun. What is has been. But call it ‘a New Discovery’ all the same. I am convinced that humanity would be the better for this discovery.

  • luke

    why always “find” elements with a larger atomic weight? maybe “find” one with a negative weight?

  • Brian Too

    @17. ChH,

    If you look at the element’s diagram above, it looks a little like a doughnut with sprinkles! Of course they all do, at least all the heavier elements.

    Mmmmmm, electron sprinkles!

  • suryana halim

    OMG!!! It’s cool.. Suppose the element is a halogen element, right??

  • ChH

    You know, suryana halim raises a good point – 117 should be a halogen, and therefore should have a name ending in “ine” rather than “ium”.
    So I revise my #17 suggestion to “Simpsonine”.

  • Cathy A

    A bit of silliness, but I just glanced at the periodic table I got from Lawrence Livermore’s discovery center, and the outline for 117 appears to be a 19th century classical composer. (They have outlines for the Ununs with big question marks on them to indicate they have not yet been named.) They probably picked it randomly, but given the location of the discovery, I would say that Tchaikovskinium wouldn’t be out of order.

  • Susan

    How about Flubberium? And as for man creating “bad” things, nature does, too: belladonna and snake venom are absolutely natural.

  • Yuki A Y

    It is alternatively named as Amerussium or Amerussine in honor of American and Russian scientists for this discovery.

  • Ryan

    I’ve always wondered the following: Why is a neutron star not just of the biggest atomic nuclei in the universe? Isn’t it the remnants of a supernova that didn’t quite collapse into a black hole and is held together by (strong or weak) nuclear force? Would someone with an actual physics background please clear this up for me?

  • ChH

    Ryan, a neutron star is mostly kind-of a huge atom, but I don’t think it’s really considered an atom because it is degenerate matter.
    One thing I can say for sure – it is held together by gravity-induced pressure, not the weak or strong force. The strong force is nowhere near strong enough to hold the whole thing together against the electromagnetic force – if it were possible to remove a piece of that matter from the intense gravitational field of the neutron star, it would immediately explode back into “normal” (not degenerate) matter.
    Also note that neutron stars have pockets and a surface coating of non-degenerate and/or less-degenerate matter.

  • David

    There seem to be many misconceptions in these comments. It is important to distinguish between the meanings of the words “create” and “discover”. Also, to assume this element has never previously occurred is a misunderstanding. Consider space. The known universe is made up of millions of galaxies each of which consists of millions of stars, a lot of which are much larger than our own. Given the unimaginable size of existence, it is almost certain that element 117 can be found somewhere within the bizarre conditions present in various areas throughout the cosmos.

  • natanael

    lol my teacher made me writte a summary about this and im just copying and pasting

  • http://4chan.org Anonymous

    >> 1
    I wonder if this idiot is talking about her her

    or her

    element.
    Those elements would’ve never been created without “human intervention.”

    /please go back to wherever the hell you came from/

  • Jennifer Angela

    I wonder of what character this element is: Is it healthy for us human beings like oxygen, or rather toxic for our species, like arsenic? Is it a liquid, a gas or is it a solid? Is it light or heavy? Soft or hard? Is it applicable for any function? I hope scientists will find out soon, because I would love to know these things about “117″! I apologise if some of my questions are insulting to chemists, but I need to add, that I am NOT a chemist. I am yet very much interested in this discovery!

  • John Franco

    I think it should be called Feynmanium : ) Heaviest element, smartest physicist.

  • Rose Scherer

    My eighth grade students say we should name it:

    Nyetonium
    Dedicated to Bill Nye the Science Guy

  • Unknown

    I think the name that should be chosen is pretty clear… The Master Chief, Spartan 117 saves the world from the Covenant in the year 2552.

    I think he would be very pleased to find that when he comes into existence that we anticipated his arrival and his great efforts so much that we preemptively named an atomic element for him.

    I think it should simply be : Master Chiefium, Element 117

  • prasanna

    iam happy to hear the new element
    plz keep the appropriate name to those elements

  • charliepieintheskyflyinghighlikeapie

    dis iz so kewlllll

  • http://www.yahoo.in sam

    well that’s it !

  • http://www.yahoo.in sam

    great one

  • danyell

    ok not to be mean but what group or period would it be in.Because it says on
    my science paper where would it go and why?

  • Newsaac Iton

    It’s difficult to believe that a site like this, and an article like this, would generate so many comments which are so inane and so aggressively stupid. I can’t help wonder whether, as on Yahoo Answers, some of them are hoaxes or bad jokes. I certainly hope so.

  • Steve D

    We’re about at the point where it no longer makes sense to speak of elements that exist in any meaningful sense of the word. Element 118 at one time was supposed to be in the “Island of Stability.” I suggest we name an element only when we have a visible amount of it and can observe it in chemical reactions.

    In answer to Danyell (40), it goes right under 85 Astatine. Group VIIA, halogen.

  • Colin

    So, if Uus is a halogen, then Uuo (#118) should be an inert gas. Has #119 been discovered? It ought to be an alkali metal.

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