The newest element on the periodic table will likely be named in honor of scientist and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Element 112 will be named Copernicum, with the element symbol “Cp.”
“We would like to honor an outstanding scientist, who changed our view of the world”, says Sigurd Hofmann, head of the team who discovered the element.
Element 112 is the heaviest element in the periodic table, 277 times heavier than hydrogen. With that distinction, several interesting suggestions for a name have recently been floating around the blogosphere (Fat Bottomum was my favorite; another was naming it to honor Carl Sagan). But the scientists said they wanted to honor the scientist who paved the way for our view of the modern world by discovering that the Earth orbits the Sun. Our solar system is a model for other physical systems, such as the structure of an atom, where electrons orbit the atomic nucleus. Exactly 112 electrons circle the atomic nucleus in an atom of copernicium.
Thirteen years ago, element 112 was discovered by an international team of scientists at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung (Center for Heavy Ion Research) in Darmstadt, Germany.
The element is produced by a nuclear fusion, when bombarding zinc ions onto a lead target. As the element already decays after a split second, its existence can only be proved with the help of extremely fast and sensitive analysis methods. Twenty-one scientists from Germany, Finland, Russia and Slovakia have been involved in the experiments that led to the discovery of element 112.
A few weeks ago, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, IUPAC, officially confirmed their discovery. In around six months, IUPAC will officially endorse the new element’s name. This period is set to allow the scientific community to discuss the suggested name “copernicium” before the IUPAC naming.
Since 1981, GSI accelerator experiments have yielded the discovery of six chemical elements, which carry the atomic numbers 107 to 112. The discovering teams at GSI already named five of them: element 107 is called bohrium, element 108, hassium; element 109, meitnerium; element 110, darmstadtium; and element 111 is named roentgenium.