The Periodic Table Just Gained Four New Elements

January 4, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

The periodic table of elements
Photo credit: Brian Cantoni/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Now it’s time to name them.

Anyone who has ever taken a high school chemistry class is familiar with the periodic table of the elements. It contains all known elements organized by their atomic number. As of December 30, 2015, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has confirmed the discovery of four new elements to be added to it: 113, 115, 117, and 118.

These elements, located in the seventh row of the periodic table, were assigned the temporary symbols Uut, Uup, Uus, and Uuo, but they will now need more official names as there is finally enough evidence that they can be reproduced.

"The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row," said Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC.

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Due to the speed at which they decay, these aren’t elements that can be found in nature, but are rather produced in a lab. “The work of discovering new superheavy elements is very difficult, and the elements tend to decay extremely quickly — the isotopes of 113 produced at RIKEN lasted for less than a thousandth of a second,” reported RIKEN in a press release.

Kosuke Morita and his team from RIKEN in Japan are credited with the discovery of element 113, currently known as ununtrium, the first element of the periodic table discovered in Asia. Elements 115, 117 and 118 — ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium— were discovered by a Russian and American team at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, and from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Elements can’t be named just anything — following the rules means naming them after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place, a property or a scientist. They are presented for public review before their names are made official by the IUPAC council. They are checked for consistency, translatability and historic use. Also, the new symbols will contain only two letters, rather than the current three.

“Now that we have conclusively demonstrated the existence of element 113, we plan to look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond, aiming to examine the chemical properties of the elements in the seventh and eighth rows of the periodic table, and someday to discover the island of stability," said Morita, according to RIKEN.

High school chemistry students will now have more to learn and Tom Lehrer may have to extend the lyrics to his famous song, “The Elements.”

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