This is it, the moment all of us periodic table nerds have been dreaming about… they’ve named the new elements!
These names will replace the bulky placeholder names like ununseptium when they’re finalized in November.
Nihonium takes its name from the Japanese name for Japan and was the first new element discovered there, at the RIKEN lab. Moscovium and oganesson were discovered by a team of researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. Both elements take Russian names: moscovium is for Moscow, while oganesson is named for living physicist Yuri Oganessian, leader of the Russian team and contributor to lots of elements’ discoveries, including flerovium, bohrium, seaborgium, and dubnium. Tennessine is named for Tennessee, since Oak Ridge National Lab and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee played a role in its discovery.
Nihonium and moscovium take their “-ium” suffix to match the pattern of the majority of the elements on the periodic table, like uranium, potassium, and thulium. Tennessine sits in the second to last column of the periodic table, and takes “-ine” to match the column’s other members like fluorine. Oganesson is in the last column, and takes “-on” to match the noble gasses other than helium, like xenon.
Don’t expect to see computers or spaceships made from these new elements, though. They were all synthesized in a lab, and their atoms are some of the biggest of all the elements, which means they’re unstable. They only stick around for a few seconds before falling apart and turning into smaller elements.
Chemistry geeks have been looking forward to this moment for months, but the names shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I guessed the namesakes of nihonium and oganesson correctly in a blog post I wrote for The Washington Post in April, and received an angry email from someone who felt I snubbed Oak Ridge in Tennessee by not calling them out by name. I didn’t pick Moscow because there are already a few Russian place name elements: dubnium for Dubna and ruthenium for Russia.
The names aren’t finalized yet and are now under public review, so if you thought you’d be an element’s namesake, you have until November to air your grievances.