15 Jun 2016

Welcome, Nh, Mc, Ts, and Og!

Submitted by Anne Bentley, Lewis & Clark College

Last week, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced provisional names for elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, formerly known as Uut, Uup, Uus, and Uuo, respectively. With the additions of nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), the seventh row of the periodic table is now complete. The names will become permanent after a five-month review period ends in November.

The international research teams that first synthesized each element were given naming rights, but they were required to follow IUPAC rules by choosing to honor a mythological concept or character (including an astronomical object), a mineral, a place or region, a property of the element, or a scientist. Nihonium is based on nihon, one of two Japanese words for Japan. Moscovium is named for the Moscow region of Russia, and Tennessine derives from Tennessee, where Oak Ridge National Lab is based. Oganesson is the only one of the four to honor a scientist, Yuri Oganessian, who is a leader in the synthesis of transuranium elements.

Of interest to me, IUPAC also requires that “the names of all new elements in general…have an ending that reflects and maintains historical and chemical consistency.” For example, elements belonging to groups 1-16 must have names ending in “-ium”, group 17 elements should end in “-ine”, and the noble gases all should end in “-on”. Luckily the earliest elements like lead, tin, silver, cobalt, zinc, copper, oxygen, silicon, etc. received a pass on this rule, or element names would be rather boring and uniform.

VIPEr users will be sorry to note that the new symbols do not significantly expand our abilities to spell English words with element symbols. However, those with a Scottish family name might have new opportunities. Two letters in the alphabet remain absent from the periodic table.

For more information about each name, including their proper pronunciations, consult a short Washington Post video story here.