For those who are science-inclined, particularly chemists as well as Chemistry-oriented students and researchers, four new chemical elements were officially and permanently added to the Periodic Table of elements on November 30, 2016, thereby creating a new face in the world of physical sciences and technology in general.
The Periodic Table is a tabular arrangement of chemical elements in columns and rows in accordance with their atomic numbers – number of protons, electron configurations as well as recurring chemical properties.
The order of arrangement signifies periodic trends. The vertical columns are known as ‘groups’ whereas the horizontal rows are called ‘periods’. Within each row (period), the elements are metals on the left and non-metals on the right.
Earlier in January 2016, it was announced that four new elements had been discovered, subject to earn a permanent spot on the periodic table with elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 rounding out the seventh row. At the time, they all had temporary names and symbols. But at the moment, they enjoy new and permanent names namely, Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine, and Oganesson.
Teams of researchers from the United States (U.S.), Russia, and Japan have been credited with the discovery of these new elements, thus were given the naming rights – which come with some basic criteria.
As stipulated by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the body responsible for confirming the discovery of new elements, any new element must be named after any of the following: a mythological concept or character, including an astronomical object; a mineral or similar substance; a place or geographical region; a property of the element in question; or, a scientist.
The scientists first synthesized the new elements between 2002 and 2010, but it wasn’t until December 2015 that the IUPAC officially recognized the discoveries. Then in June of 2016, the scientists who discovered the super-heavy, highly reactive elements sent IUPAC their suggested names for the elements, based on the aforementioned guideline.
After a five-month waiting period when members of the public could ask questions about the new elements or tender contrary view if necessary, as the tradition requested, which expired on November 8, 2016, the foursome were unanimously approved by IUPAC, formally filling their boxes in Chemistry’s most fundamental table – the Periodic Table.
Nihonium of atomic number 113 is with symbol Nh, Moscovium of 115 has symbol Mc, Tennessine of 117 goes with symbol Ts, whilst Oganesson of 118 has symbol Og. Nihonium was derived from ‘Nippon’, a Japanese word meaning literally Japan.
Moscovium honours the Russian capital city, Moscow. Tennessine is named after the state of Tennessee, USA known for its pioneering research in Chemistry. According to IUPAC, Tennessine is in recognition of the contribution of the Tennessee region to super-heavy elements’ research.
This marks the second US state to be honoured on the periodic table, following California – referenced by Californium (element 98), which was discovered in the 1950s. Similarly, Hassium (element 108) was named after the German state of Hesse.
Oganesson is named after the 83-year-old Russian physicist, Yuri Oganessian. History has it that this is barely the second time a new element would be named after a living scientist. The first time such occasion occurred – when in 1993 a team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory proposed naming element 106 (Seaborgium) after the U.S. nuclear-Chemistry pioneer, Glenn Seaborg – it led to huge controversy.
At the time, an IUPAC committee rejected the proposal after passing a resolution that elements were not to be named for living scientists, but the name was later allowed after further critical deliberations.
One may wonder why these four elements took so long to make it on the periodic table. Unlike the classics, such as Gold, Iron, and Aluminium, these new elements are not found in nature. They are synthetic elements that can only be created in the lab, and they decay so fast after synthesis. For years, the teams behind their discovery didn’t have an opportunity to get a proper look before they morphed into something else entirely.
Kosuke Morita from Japan, one of the scientists that discovered Nihonium, said “For over seven years, we continued to search for data conclusively identifying element 113, but we just never saw another event. However, I was not prepared to give up as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again.” Hence, the persistence eventually yielded an absolute success.
It’s worth noting that the heaviest element in nature remains Uranium, which has 92 protons. But heavier elements that have more protons in their nucleus can be created via nuclear fusion. The way elements are made nowadays is by shooting a beam of an existing element at another element, and then seeing what happens when they collide.
It’s interesting to acknowledge that the Japanese team is now focused on inventing element 119 and beyond. So hopefully, soonest, a dragonian element might be invented.
Based on the new incredible development, it’s needless to reiterate that it is high time researchers, teachers and students changed their Chemistry-related text books and research materials. It suffices to say that the country’s schools’ curriculum in regard to Chemistry and other related subjects must be reviewed towards effecting the aforementioned change.
Above all, it has become compelling for the government to endeavour to encourage the research works of our various institutions to enable them put the country’s name on the world map as regards scientific discovery. Think about it!
• Nwaozor, National Coordinator, Right Thinkers Movement, writes via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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