Thanks to researchers in Russia, Japan, and the U.S., every chemistry textbook in the world just became obsolete yet again. As of December 30, four new elements have been added to the periodic table, filling in the seventh row and leading to an explosion of chemistry jokes. Elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 — called ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium until their discoverers give them permanent names, which then have to be approved by an international governing body — are the first new elements to be added in five years.
All four new elements are classified as “superheavy,” a designation given to any element with more than 104 protons in its nucleus. They’re also synthetic (man-made) and highly unstable. To prove their existence in the first place, researchers had to ram the nuclei of two existing elements together. If the two sets of protons and neutrons in the nuclei stuck together, however briefly, they proved the existence of a new element. A joint team of American and Russian scientists claimed credit for elements 115, 117, and 118, and the Riken Institute in Japan is credited with discovering lucky number 113.
To say scientists are stoked would be an understatement. “To scientists, this is of greater value than an Olympic gold medal,” former Riken president Ryoji Noyori told The Guardian. Others took it less seriously:
Thanks to super-strict guidelines imposed by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), it’s unlikely the elements will get their official names until months (or even years) from now. There may be many others but they haven’t been discaaaavered.