How Do New Periodic Table Elements Get Their Names?


Every so often, we'll reprint something interesting from our sister publication, The Week. This is one of those times.

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Two new elements are joining old chemistry-class favorites on the periodic table. The latest inductees — number 114, flerovium (Fl), and number 116, livermorium (Lv) — were revealed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and are now open for public discussion. Here, a brief guide to the new submissions:

What are they, exactly?

Numbers 114 and 116 will sit "down in the lower-right corner of the periodic table." In real life, both elements are "so large and unstable" that they can only be created in a lab, says Jennifer Welsh at Live Science. Known as "super heavy" or "Transuranium" elements, "they fall apart into other elements very quickly," so scientists haven't been able to study their potential applications quite yet. The elements were first synthesized over 10 years ago, but it was only recently — and through repeated experiments — that their existence was finally confirmed. Number 115 is still awaiting validation.

How did the new elements get their names?

Naming an element is an "arduous" process, says Kenneth Chang at The New York Times. The current names are merely proposals put forth by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, "the scientific body that is the keeper of the list of elements." The union has "finicky rules about what it considers an acceptable name." For instance, if a previously proposed element's name is rejected, that name cannot be proposed for any "subsequent element discoveries."

So what about Fl and Lv?

Livermorium was named after the city of Livermore, Calif., where it was created. And Flerovium was named after Georgi N. Flerov, the founder of the Russian research institute where it was discovered. The public is invited to discuss what to name both elements, so consider the current names "placeholders," says Alan Boyle at MSNBC. "The names still have to go through after a five-month public comment period," and are set to be written into the table officially in May. "If you do not like them," says Chang, "now is the time to voice your objections."