Dec. 1, 2011 at 11:11 PM ET
Years after their discovery, the super-heavy elements 114 and 116 have finally been christened by their Russian and American discoverers. Say hello to flerovium and livermorium, also known as Fl and Lv.
The two names received recommendations for addition to the periodic table from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, or IUPAC. But don't add Fl and Lv to your periodic-table tattoo quite yet. The names still have to go through after a five-month public comment period, and then there'll have to be a couple of official sign-offs. Three other super-heavy elements — darmstadtium, roentgenium and copernicium — just completed the full process this month.
It's taken a long time for 114 and 116 to get this far: They were first synthesized more than a decade ago at Russia's Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, by a team that included Russian researchers as well as chemists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. For years the elements were known merely by their placeholder names, ununquadium and ununhexium. This June, the IUPAC accepted 114 and 116 as the heaviest confirmed elements on the periodic table, opening the way for the researchers to settle on official names in October.
Flerovium has long been the favored name for 114. The name pays tribute to the Russian institute's Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, where the element was synthesized, as well as the lab's founder, Georgiy Flerov (1913-1990). But the rumored name for 116 had been muscovium or moscovium. That would have given a nod to the Moscow region, where Dubna is located. The choice of "livermorium" suggests that a compromise was struck.
"The team decided it'd only be fair to have one American and one Russian," Anne Stark, a spokeswoman for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told me today. Livermorium honors the lab as well as Livermore, Calif., the city where the lab is located. (In 1997, Element 103 was designated lawrencium in honor of the lab's founder, Ernest O. Lawrence.)
Bill Goldstein, associate director of the Livermore Lab's Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, hailed the name choices in a news release. "Proposing these names for the elements honors not only the individual contributions of scientists from these laboratories to the fields of nuclear science, heavy element research, and super-heavy element research, but also the phenomenal cooperation and collaboration that has occurred between scientists at these two locations," he said.
The super-heavy elements that have been synthesized so far last for only an instant before they decay into lighter elements, but the Livermore Lab says that chemists are hoping they'll eventually find an "island of stability" in the periodic table where newfound heavy elements would last long enough for applications to be found.
There are still more elements with links to the Livermore and Flerov labs waiting to be recognized and named: 113, 115, 117 and 118. One might assume that researchers are already thinking about lists of potential names, including moscovium, but Stark said it would be "bad juju" to discuss those names until the elements' existence was confirmed. Fortunately, I don't think the juju jinx applies to us. What would you name an element if you had the chance? Feel free to leave your suggestions as comments below.
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