The Naming of the Four Newly Discovered Elements

By: Oriel Schmulevich  |  January 2, 2017


Let us officially welcome in the four newly added elements to the Periodic Table of Elements! The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) approved the names of these four new elements in late November. The discoveries of these elements over the last decade are a major achievement in the basic sciences, confirming the prediction of the previously unknown elements with the atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118. Their placement in the Table was met with much enthusiasm from the scientific community and general population alike, sealing the previously lacking seventh row.

Early chemists knew that there were missing elements in the Periodic Table of Elements based on the Table’s principles. The Table is arranged on the basis of increasing atomic number (Z), or number of protons. They therefore set aside designated place holders for the elements to be discovered. Until now, the new elements had the temporary working names of 113 ununtrium, Uut, 115 ununpentium, Uup, 117 ununseptium, Uus, and 118 ununoctium, Uuo. Now that their discoveries have been confirmed, the seventh period of the Periodic Table of Elements is complete.

The elements were discovered by researchers from Japan, Russia, and the United States. Element 113 was discovered by scientists at RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan. It was named Nihonium and was given the symbol Nh. The name stems from Nihon which is one of the two ways to say “Japan” in Japanese, and literally means “the Land of Rising Sun.”

Element 115 and Element 117 were discovered at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna in Russia, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, all three in the United States. Element 115 was named Moscovium with the symbol Mc, in recognition of the Moscow region. It honors the land that is the home of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, where the discovery experiments were conducted. Moscovium was discovered using the Dubna Gas-Filled Recoil Separator in combination with the heavy ion accelerator capabilities of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions. Element 117 was given the name Tennessine along with the symbol Ts. It is in recognition of the contribution the state of Tennessee has had to the field of super-heavy element research, and includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Element 118 was discovered by the collaborating teams of researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In line with the tradition of honoring a scientist, the name Oganesson and symbol Og for element 118 was proposed by the collaborating teams of discoverers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. The name recognizes Professor Yuri Oganessian (born 1933) for his pioneering contributions to transactinide elements research. His many achievements include the discovery of super-heavy elements and significant advances in the nuclear physics of super-heavy nuclei including experimental evidence for the “island of stability.”

After learning of the names of these elements, one might be wondering whether there is a systematic way of naming newly discovered elements. If so, who decides on the name? It turns out that according to the IUPAC website, “new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.Furthermore, the names of all new elements should have an ending that reflects and maintains historical and chemical consistency.  Meaning, elements in groups 1-16 are named with the suffix “-ium,” elements in group 17 have the suffix “-ine” and elements in group 18 have the suffix “-on.” Finally, the names for new chemical elements in English should allow proper translation into other major languages.

After Divisional acceptance, the names and two-letter symbols are presented for public review for five months, before the highest body of IUPAC, the Council, makes a final decision on the names of new chemical elements and their two-letter symbols and their introduction into the Periodic Table of the Elements.