New chemical elements are tough to swallow

The Periodic Table.

A crucial organizational and predictive key for chemists. And the bane of a communications major’s existence.

When the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry announced recently that four newly discovered elements have been added to the periodic table, I swallowed hard. Yikes, I thought, chemistry. The only class that ever earned me a C. And just barely.

(Some people are quite happy with Cs, and good for them. But I was one of those nerdy straight-A types who moped around for days after getting 88 on an exam.)

I remember an enormous Periodic Table decorating the wall of Mr. Klawitter’s eighth-grade chemistry class at Wadena Junior High School (both the school and Mr. Klawitter are gone now, but I bet that Periodic Table lives on somewhere). Memorizing the relative positions of the elements was fairly easy for me (who cares about learning anything and we can just memorize it!) so the Periodic Table was my friend back then.

But understanding the finer points of chemistry, particularly the mathematical ones, was clearly beyond me. When I took Chemistry 101 my freshman year in college to fulfill some gen-ed requirement, I had no idea what would be required of me. Particularly when I was much more interested in chemistry of another sort — sexual chemistry. The time I spent studying the opposite sex would have been put to better use cozying up to a chemistry major of either gender.

After miserably failing my 101 chemistry final and earning a generous C in the course, I now believe chemistry majors to be brilliant.

Chemists understand the importance of how the recently discovered superheavy elements fill up the table’s seventh row (because they understand the meaning  of “superheavy” and the table’s organization of the “seventh row”).

But here’s where a communication major’s expertise comes in — creative naming. The international chemistry organisation that announced the new elements offered temporary names of ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium. Bor-ing. The final monickers of the new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property, or a scientist (all to be circulated, pondered and approved of course).

I’m a fan of elemental names like iron, zinc and gold. Short, to the point and easy to memorize. So how about words that play on the new elements’ “superheavy” size in a way that every eighth grader can remember:

Gulp, Big Gulp, Double Gulp and Super Double Gulp aka Gp, Bgp, Dg and Sdg.

Chemists everywhere are swallowing hard, I know.

3 responses to “New chemical elements are tough to swallow

  1. Great names! My Waterloo was algebra. I wriggled out of taking chemistry by taking geology, which has actually been of some use to me, but please don’t ask me where the 2 trains will meet if one is going 40 mph and the other is going 60 mph and they started at 6 am. That’s like asking how many pancakes does it take to shingle the doghouse. (Harold Kulland)

  2. Thanks for this. I too wrote about the four new elements. But if you really want to confound yourself think about matter that we have yet to understand. That’s dark matter. You may find my take on the same subject worth a read. So what matters to you?

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