May 30, 2014

Horse 1684 - What Should Chemical Elements 117 and 118 be Called?

As much as this is going to infuriate CGP Grey but possibly amuse Brady Haran, I'm going to try to address a question posed in "Hello Internet" Episode 13¹ namely:

What should chemical elements 117 and 118 be called?
Temporarily known as element 117 – after the number of protons in its nucleus – the new element's atoms match the heaviest ever observed and are 40 per cent heavier than lead.
It will soon have a catchier name when it is officially recognised by the international body of scientists behind the periodic table, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
- Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd May 2014

As I see it, the challenge which has been set for us, is to give elements 117 and 118 names which match where they fit in the table because science likes order.

The history of naming chemical elements stretches back into antiquity. Some elements like Silver and Gold, were known by pretty simple sort of names and these are reflected in their current chemical symbols.
Silver was known as "Argentum" in Roman which directly translated means "shining grey" and as a result has the chemical symbol Ar. Gold was known in Roman as "Aurum" and likewise has the chemical symbol Au.
Hydrogen is a Greek word which means "water former". Oxygen is also derived from the Greek and means "acid former". Sodium derives its name from the Roman "Sodanum" which might mean a headache reliever and its symbol "Na" comes from "Natrium" which was the name of a mineral salt.

Greek and Roman words provide all sorts of modern neologisms because in the modern world, the real irony is that we like to mine those languages to coin new words to make them sound scientific and proper. It's a sort of cultural snobbery.
We do this with other technological things too. The word "television" for instance, comes from the Greek "tele" which means "far away" and the Roman "visio" which means "sight". This is of course kind of ridiculous because we've mashed a word together out of components from different languages.

The other place that the periodic table likes to pull names from are the names of scientists and universities who have discovered things. Element 101 for instance is caled Mendelevium after Dmitri Mendeleev who created the periodic table, element 96 is named Curium after Marie and Pierre Curie who were both famed for their work into radioactivity and perhaps rather egotisically, element 97 is named Berkelium after the city of Berkeley in California where the University of California first discovered it.

An increasing problem though is the annoying fact that beyond element 83 (Bismuth), chemical elements are generally radioactive and although a few chemical elements beyond element 92 (Uranium) do exist naturally, as the elements get more and more massive, searching for them becomes something of a scientific game and producing very large elements becomes an exercise in doing it for its own sake.

So then, knowing all of this, lets have a go a naming some elements.

Element 117 

Logically element 117 falls into group 17 on the periodic table which are the Halogens. The halogens which currently are Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine, Astatine (and 117), all follow a pretty obvious naming pattern - they are all "-ine". Apart from the "ine" suffix, their names mean as follows:
Fluorine - Flow
Chlorine - Green
Bromine - Brine
Iodine - Purple
Astatine - Unstable
I'm not sure what exactly what adjective would work the best here but I'd like to propose the following name:


Askopine retains the "ine" suffix which makes it fit nicely into the current naming convention and because it is an intrinsically useless element, I chose the Greek word for "pointless" which is "Askopos". Considering that only a few atoms of this element are ever likely to be produced, I think that its rather fitting.

Element 118

Element 118 falls into Group 18 which are the "Noble Gases". The Noble Gases are called as such because they have all of their electron shells filled and as such, don't react with very much.
Apart from Helium, the noble gases also follow a naming pattern, they all have the suffix "-on" which in Greek means "the something one"
Helium - Helios, the Sun God
Neon - the New one.
Argon - the Lazy one.
Krypton - the Hidden one.
Xenon - the Strange one.
Radon - the Radium one (because it was first derived from Radium).
I thought about the name Megalon which in Greek would mean "the Big one" because it could very well be the biggest Noble Gas if it is a gas, or even Metallon which means "the Metal one" because it might just as easily be metallic. Megalon and Metallon both sound pretty dumb though. I don't know if I'd like to be responsible for either of those names forever.

I pondered about the fact that there are currently no elements whose name begin with J. The name Jovion which means "the Happy one" might be appropriate, I  thought about a Jeroboam which is a very big wine bottle and derived the name Jerobon which would be sort of neat, and then a very big truck rolled down the street and rattled all the windows. Ahah, I found it:


Juggernon retains the "-on" suffix which makes it fit into the group, would use the chemical symbol J which is vacant and is derived from the word "juggernaut" and so Juggernon would mean "the Very Big one".

Of course there is one name for a chemical element which I think desperately needs to be included, simply because it's just so amusing.
Phosdex, "the shaving cream atom"².
Please, please, please, IUPAC... make it so.

¹Hello Internet is a podcast in which CGP Grey and Brady Haran discuss... many things. They each have Youtube channels which are interesting.
- CGP Grey
- Brady Haran has an abudance of Youtube Channels; here are three:

²from Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century

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