The periodic table is about to get a little bigger, with the addition of element 112. Whilst it was discovered over a decade ago, the “super-heavy” element has only now been officially recognised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) – and it is in need of a name.
The honour will fall to Sigurd Hofmann and his team at the Centre for Heavy Ion Research, who first created a single atom of element 112 in 1996 by using a particle accelerator to fire a beam of zinc ions at lead atoms. This fuses the nuclei of the two elements, forming a new one.
Elements at the end of the periodic table are very large and heavy, making them unstable and liable to decay. After just a few milliseconds the nuclei falls apart, releasing energy and elements from higher up the periodic table.
The short-live nature of element 112 has made pinning it down a rather tricky task, which is why it has taken so long to be officially added to the periodic table. So far, only four atoms have ever been observed. Now, it’s ready to take its rightful place alongside the other 111 elements.
The IUPAC uses a slightly strange system for the names of unconfirmed and undiscovered elements, in order to avoid people trying to nab a name before the element is official. It uses a mix of Greek and Latin to spell out the element’s atomic number, thus element 112 is currently known as ununbium – or “one one two”-ium.
Professor Hofmann and team are currently working on a shortlist of names, but a number of suggestions have cropped up on Twitter. Ones that I’ve seen include Lehrerium, after Tom Lehrer of the Elements Song, Kryptonite, the strange space rock that weakened Superman, and Obamium, which probably doesn’t need explanation.
I think in honour of his 150th anniversary, Darwinium would be appropriate. But then, Darwin didn’t really have much to do with chemistry. Any other suggestions?