Toronto Star's View: New elements warrant new...
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Jan 05, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: New elements warrant new thinking

Adding four new elements to the periodic table allows for some imaginative naming. But are we ready for an element based on Game of Thrones?


Chemistry texts around the world are in need of a rewrite following the addition of four new elements to the periodic table. The simultaneous inclusion of so many extra elements is exceedingly rare, bringing the total to 118. And there’s a nagging issue of what to call them.

It’s a far cry from Plato’s time, when the universe was believed to be composed of just four: earth, air, fire and water. Thanks to Dmitri Mendeleev, who developed the modern periodic table in 1869, we know the world is a bit more complicated.

It became even more so on Dec. 30, when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially verified creation of four new “superheavy” elements by scientists working in Russia, the United States and Japan.

Unlike elements such as 1 (hydrogen) and 79 (gold) which occur naturally, later additions to the periodic table exist as a result of lab-based engineering. And the four newcomers are no exception.

There were synthetically created by researchers colliding lighter elements at extremely high speed until they melded into something new. These are deemed heavyweights, due to the high number of protons in their nuclei, but they don't hang around long enough to make much of an impression. Extremely unstable, they exist for only a fraction of a second.

Scientists will spend years working to characterize these new elements and better understand their place in the cosmos. But a more immediate task is to come up with permanent names for what they’ve discovered.

Right now, the four new elements have numbers and temporary monikers: 113 (ununtrium), 115 (ununpentium), 117 (ununseptium), and 118 (ununoctium). Rules dictate that an element must be named after a mineral, place, country, property, scientist or “mythological concept.” Japanese scientists are reportedly considering calling their discovery Japonium.

Clever researchers can do better than that. Bearing in mind the value of a trending topic in this age of over-sharing, why not take advantage of the “mythological concept” provision to name an element after a Game of Thrones dragon? Drogonium anyone?

Or perhaps a Harry Potter character. Think of the marketing potential inherent in Dumbledorium. In a 21st century world of popular memes, viral videos, twitterholics, listicles, and assorted celebrity obsessions, this approach isn’t a sell-out — it’s elementary.

Toronto Star

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