Meet the 4 New Elements on the Periodic Table
Product Manager, Chemistry
Think about your name. Maybe you were named for a family member such as a sibling or grandparent. Could it be that your name is a special combination of your parents’ names? Have you ever wondered how each of the 118 elements of the periodic table got their names?
Meet the parents
If you are thinking that there is no way 1 person could have possibly named all the elements, then you are correct. Members from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) join forces for part of the naming process.
The laboratory that discovers the element has the right to propose the formal name and symbol. Before this happens, the IUPAC and IUPAP work together using established criteria to confirm the discovery of the element and establish a claim (ownership). After the element’s existence has been properly verified, only the IUPAC works to select a suitable name.
The IUPAC invites the discovering laboratory to submit its proposal for a name and symbol. Until the final name is approved, the element receives a temporary name and symbol. For example, element 113 first appeared on the periodic table as ununtrium (Uut). Once all parties agree on a proposed name and symbol, there is a mandatory 5-month public review. During this time, anyone may send suggested names, comments, and objections. Shortly after the review, the IUPAC announces the formal name and symbol of the new element.
Traditionally, new elements are named after a place, geographical region, or scientist. They may also be named after:
- A mythological concept or character (including an astronomical object)
- A mineral or similar substance
- A property of the element
The -ium, -ine, and -on endings reflect the element’s location on the periodic table. The new name and symbol should be recognizable when translated and used in any language.
On November 28, 2016, the IUPAC formalized the names of the 4 newest chemical elements after a 5-month review. For the first time, all the elements have concrete names. There are no temporary names on the table or elements waiting to be verified. The new elements are as follows:
Element 113 was discovered in Japan. Nihon means “Japan” in Japanese. This name is the first element in the history of the periodic table to be discovered in an Asian country.
The name of element 115 recognizes the Moscow, Germany region, home of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR). Like nihonium, its name ends in -ium, indicating that it belongs to groups 1–16.
The name of element 117 recognizes the contribution to super heavy element research by the state of Tennessee. Its name ends in -ine, denoting that it belongs to group 17.
Element 118 is named for Professor Yuri Oganessian for his pioneering contributions to the research of transactinoid elements. Its name ends in -on, denoting that it belongs to group 18. This is only the second element named after a living person. The first was seaborgium (Sg), named for Glenn T. Seaborg, a renowned 20th-century nuclear chemist who was involved in the discovery of 10 transuranium elements.
Future periodic tables
Now that all the elements are named, the periodic table looks complete, but is it? Probably not. A new committee of IUPAC and IUPAP members is already being planned, and the discovery of element 119 could be just around the corner.
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. (2017). Periodic Table of Elements. https://iupac.org/what-we-do/periodic-table-of-elements/#a1
Ohrstrom, L. and Reedijk, J. (2016). Names and symbols of the elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 (IUPAC Recommendations 2016). Pure and Applied Chemistry, 88(12), 1225–1229. https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2016-0501