Periodic table enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting the official induction of the four new elements that were introduced last year. The journey began in December, when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced the discoveries of the new elements, set to complete the seventh row of the periodic table. After their initial discovery, these super-heavy elements underwent a formal naming process. According to the pre-established guidelines of the IUPAC in naming elements, the newcomers must be named after one of the following: a mythological concept or character (including an astronomical object), a mineral or similar substance, a place, a geographical region, a property of the element, or a scientist.
After careful consideration, the elements were given pending names. These new additions include Nihonium, previously called ‘Ununtrium,’ for element 113; Moscovium, previously ‘Ununpentium,’ for element 115; Tennessine, previously ‘Ununseptium,’ for element 117, and lastly Oganesson, previously ‘Ununoctium,’ for element 118.
The names are currently undergoing a five month public review process, which will then be followed by formal approval by the IUPAC Council. Despite their relatively short time on the scene, scientists have managed to gather ample information about the elements.
The lightest of the four elements, Nihonium (Nh), was discovered by scientists at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan. The element is a highly-radioactive synthetic metal. The name of the element is inspired by the location of discovery, as ‘Nihon’ is one of the ways to say ‘Japan’ in Japanese.
Element 115, Moscovium (Mc), was discovered at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, a facility near Moscow. This element’s name is also derived primarily from its location of inception, like Nihonium. After extensive testing, scientists determined that Moscovium is an extremely radioactive metal. It falls under the Nitrogen group of elements — column 15 of the table — which makes it a pnictogen. The other pnictogens are Phosphorous, Bismuth, Arsenic, and Antimony. The elements in this group tend to form strong and stable compounds, which is due to their structural ability to easily form double and triple covalent bonds.
Tennessine (Uus), element 117, is named as a reference to contributions from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This element is classified as a halogen. Members of this group, which can be found in column 17 of the periodic table, include Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine, and Astatine. The term ‘halogen,’ translated from Greek to English, roughly means ‘salt-former.’ When combined with metals, the halogens form compounds called salt-compounds, or simply, salts. Halogens are also the sole group on the periodic table that contain elements of all three states at room-temperature.
The final, and heaviest, of the new elements is Oganesson (Uuo), element 118. The element was discovered by Russian teams in the city of Dubna, and Americans at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Additionally, the name is meant to give a nod to the Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian, a hard-hitter in the discovery of superheavy elements. Because of the incredibly large mass of each atom, the element is extremely unstable. The superheavy element is a non-metal member of the noble gases group, found in column 18. Members of this group include Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon, and Radon. These elements have complete outer-shells, meaning they carry the maximum capacity of electrons, and due to this characteristic, tend to be stable. Oganesson has full-capacity of electrons, but its sheer size and weight prompt the element to contradict the characteristic stability of the other members of this group.
As experimentation continues, scientists are looking to obtain more information about the new elements; however, it is important to remain grounded amongst all of the excitement revolving around the naming process. How little the world knows of the new elements is a strong indicator of how much we have yet to learn.