Sneaky little buggers that they are, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), those global overlords of chemical nomenclature and measurements, verified the discovery of the four missing elements on the periodic table, just a day before New Year’s Eve, when we were all too distracted to notice. (And by we all, I mean me).
The news popped up in my Facebook feed just now, via The Guardian:
The four new elements, all of which are man-made, were discovered by slamming lighter nuclei into each other and tracking the following decay of the radioactive superheavy elements.
They are the first to be added since 2011, and they complete that gaping seventh row. And, ok, to be fair, this isn’t really double-exclamation-point news. All of the newly verified elements were actually discovered a while back. IUPAC just makes it official, because they determine who gets credit for each one (there was a dispute between the Russians, Americans and Japanese over 113 that I’m sure is worthy of it’s own post). IUPAC will also determine the official name of each new element, but that will take a bit longer, and probably involve its own set of disputes.
Still. The announcement is as good an excuse as any to thumb through one of my favorite coffee table books, Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray.
It’s a very pretty science-as-art book. The author is an avid collector of elements, and all the pictures come from his personal trove.
From the Intro:
The Periodic Table is the universal catalog of everything you can drop on your foot. There are some things, such as light, love, logic, and time, that are not in the periodic table. but you can’t drop any of those things on your foot. The earth, this book, your foot – everything tangible – is made of elements…
This is all there is. From here to Timbuktu, and including Timbuktu, everything everywhere is made of one or more of these elements. The infinite variety of combinations and recombinations that we call chemistry starts and ends with this short and memorable list, the building blocks of the physical world.
So, you know, worth celebrating on any given Monday.