Now for some superheavy news: Four shiny new elements have just been granted admission into the exclusive club that is the periodic table of elements. That means that the table’s seventh row—or period, as you may recall from college chemistry class—is finally a full house. The elements—ununtrium (113), ununpentium (115), ununseptium (117) and ununoctium (118)—were officially ushered in just before the new year by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
Change is hard. Pluto, for instance, will always be a planet in my heart. But in the spirit of a new year, let us all make an effort to welcome these four new elements. It’s been four years since the last new element was added to the table. Three of the four newest elements were discovered by a team of researchers in Russia and the United States, and the fourth was discovered by researchers at Japan’s Riken Institute, marking the first element found by scientists in Asia. All the newbies are “superheavy”—meaning they have at least 104 protons and are not found in nature. They are also all highly unstable; they exist for just one brief, shimmering moment, before decaying into undetectable nothingness.
To prove their existence, researchers had to artificially create the elements in the lab by slamming lighter nuclei into each other. Then, the researchers quickly captured traces of the brief burst of glory. Fortunately, the new elements' current unpronounceable names are only working titles. The elements will get their official titles sometime in 2016. According to international guidelines, new elements “can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.” Suggestions, anyone?
For researchers, this is an exciting discovery: It could ultimately help scientists make elements that are both stable and superheavy, which could have practical applications for science, medicine, and industry. “The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row,” professor Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC, told the Guardian.
For the rest of us, the significance is more mundane: four more elements to memorize for chem class.
Check out Slate's coverage of the weirdest, most wonderful tales to come out of the periodic table here.