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Periodic table gets four new elements, making science textbooks around the world out of date

New elements are still to be named — so it’s probably not worth updating any textbooks just yet

Published 04/01/2016

Kosuke Morita, the leader of the Riken team, poses with a board displaying the new atomic element 113 during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture on December 31, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Kosuke Morita, the leader of the Riken team, poses with a board displaying the new atomic element 113 during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture on December 31, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Kosuke Morita, the leader of the Riken team, smiles as he points to a board displaying the new atomic element 113 during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture on December 31, 2015. AFP/Getty Images

The periodic table has been given four new elements, changing one of science’s most fundamental pieces of knowledge.

Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 will now be added to the table’s seventh row and make it complete, after they were verified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry on 30 December. But they are yet to receive their final names or symbols.

Four new chemical elements have been added to the periodic table, completing its seventh period (or row) the first to be included in the table since 2011, when elements 114 and 116 were added. Graphic shows new arrangement of the table, highlighting the four new additions.
Four new chemical elements have been added to the periodic table, completing its seventh period (or row) the first to be included in the table since 2011, when elements 114 and 116 were added. Graphic shows new arrangement of the table, highlighting the four new additions.

The new elements were discovered by team from Japan, Russia and the USA, who will all get to name their own new elements.

All of the four new admissions are man-made. The super-heavy elements are created by shoving lighter nuclei into each other and are found in the radioactive decay — which only exists for a tiny fraction of a second before they decay into other elements.

The elements have been worked on since at least 2004, when studies began showing the discovery and priority of element 113. But they have all now satisfied the strict tests to be admitted to the periodic table.

Ryoji Noyori — the former president of Riken, the Japanese institute that helped discover element 113 — said that for scientists to have the achievement recognised “is of greater value than an Olympic gold medal”.

The new elements are the first to be added since 2011, when the table got elements 114 and 116.

The new discoveries fill in the seventh row, or “period”, of the table. Because of the way that the periodic table is put together, the existence and even properties of those elements that would fill in some parts of the table can be guessed at before they are actually added.

All of the elements are yet to be given permanent names. The teams that discovered will be asked to decide what they are called, as well as to choose the one-, two- or three-letter symbol that they will be referred to on the period table.

The elements have to be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.

For the moment, the elements are named after their number: element 113 is called ununtrium (which means 113-ium), and has the symbol Uut. Element 115 is referred to as ununpentium or Uup; 117 is called ununseptium or Uus; and 118 is called ununoctium or Uuo.

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