Daily Archives: 9th August

Naming element 114

Element 114 was first created at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, 120km north of Moscow, by bombarding plutonium-244 with ions of calcium-48. This created an unstable atom of element 114 (indicated by the asterisk) which then decayed into a different isotope of element 114 and three neutrons:


But what is that symbol – “Unq”? Unq is the current chemical symbol for element 114, known at the moment by its systematic name, ununquadium (“un” – one, “quad” four).

Now that the work by the JINR has been verified by work at the US Berkeley Lab and German GSI laboratory, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will invite the researchers from Dubna to submit a “proper” name; this name will then be scrutinised for six months before being approved or disapproved.

Scientists at the Dubna laboratory are already responsible for naming element 102 “nobelium” and element 105 “dubnium” (there was some controversy over this). According to the rules, the discover may not submit a name that has already been proposed for another element so both “kurchatovium” (which Dubna proposed for element 104, after Igor Kurchatov) and “nielsbohrium” (which they proposed for element 105) are out. (Niels Bohr was later honoured by the naming of element 107 “bohrium”.)

Of the ten heaviest named elements, seven are named after people (copernicium, roentgenium, meitnerium, bohrium, seaborgium, rutherfordium and lawrencium) and three are named after places (darmstadtium, hassium and dubnium). Seaborgium is unique in that it is the only element to have been named after someone who was alive at the time of naming.*

Readers at The Guardian have suggested atlantium and salubrium as names, whilst commenters on a post at Physics World (a better crowd, of course) have suggested fibonaccium, darwinium and diracium. What do you think? What should element 114 be called?

* The discovery of einsteinium and fermium (by a team that included Seaborg) was kept secret during the Cold War and thus their names did not become known to the public until after both Einstein and Fermi had died.