Welcome “Copernicium,” Our Newest Element

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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.

Source: PhysOrg

19 Replies to “Welcome “Copernicium,” Our Newest Element”

  1. Strange. I don’t think I like it. But I cannot decide why.

    I guess I just need to get used to it. Better than Darmstadtium, really.

    Re image: HAH! Thanks, w.s.g.

  2. I’m not a fan of this naming, and I actually know why. I don’t think the importance of Copernicus for human science is properly honoured by giving his name to an artificial element which suffers fission within a split second of its formation.

    But then again, nobody asks my opinions on these things…

  3. Jorge Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I initially thought the same thing – why even bother naming elements that exist for a tiny fraction of a second before decaying. After a little more thought, I guess that even though many of these super-heavies decay on a time scale that is short from our point of view, the decay half lives are quite long in comparison the the characteristic time of the strong nuclear force.

    Also, after a very quick look, Wikipedia states that the longest lived isotope of Cp thus far discovered is Cp-285 with a half life of around 30 seconds. Apparently, there may also be an isomeric state if this same isotope with a half life of up to 9 minutes! These time periods are a veritable eon in nuclear physics, so I guess the elements deserve a name.

    I must say though, it is surprising that Copernicus didn’t make the cut a long time ago! He is certainly among the top 10 names in science of all time, so I agree with you – he should be honoured in far more significant ways than this. How, I’m not sure…

  4. Well, Copernicus is already dignified with a very large and prominent lunar crater. I’m sure he can put up with his name being attached to a rather pointless element.

  5. What Wikipedia also has to say, is the total number of Cp atoms produced so far: about 75.
    The first 2 successful experiments (1996 and 2000) made one each, and the third (2004) made 2…

  6. Can we please change the symbol to something different than Cp, like Ci? I hope the discoverers realize that they’re making another Uranus by making the symbol Cp. (for those who don’t know, Cp stands for child porn in layman’s terms)

  7. Catsceo Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Surely that’s not what immediately pops into most people’s minds when they hear the letters ‘Cp’ uttered together…

    I may be wrong.

  8. I guess they are running our of names (or ideas) but I think Copernicium is bearable. It would be much worse if they wanted to name the new element “Schwerionenforschungium”? I do, however, have an issue with the use of the word “discovered” as in “element 112 was discovered”. What, they crossed the Atlantic and discovered a new element? It would be more appropriate to say “created” or “constructed”. I doubt that Cp would be naturally occurring anywhere in the Universe so you can’t really discover it?

    Nitpicking, who? Me?

    Cheers!

  9. Well, obviously, it was supposed to be “out of names” not “our of names” in my previous post.

  10. With all respect, I think the honoring of Copernicus has no ties to the content of his heliocentric or planetary orbit ideas. Reading the initial press release there is no suggestion of such a tie.

    And potentially the scientists in charge could take umbrage to it. Of course it is useful to associate orbitals with orbits when at first encountering the subject. But later it is a hindrance to associate the electron probability density of the orbital to an orbiting object. (As there is no quantum observable before the observation. And more precisely particles are now known to be states of fields.) And in fact I believe it is discouraged by many.

    I don’t think the importance of Copernicus for human science is properly honoured by giving his name to an artificial element which suffers fission within a split second of its formation.

    rather pointless

    That is close to respectively exactly the sentiment of the “makes-no-sense-to-me-so-not-important”-bots of the web. Nuclear physics is, by way of nuclear energy and weapons, not only a notable science but a social force to reckon’ with. Methods and observations on these elements goes to improve and extend the understanding of the nucleus.

    If any scientific observation was truly “rather pointless” it would be a bad scientist trying to compete with others in the first place, and the result would likely not be disseminated far. Unless it makes it into the modern “not working” journals of science, a presumably useful new idea. I would bet that very little science is, or goes to, waste.

    Personally I think it is cute that the old man got such an alive honor, even if I too think it was a somewhat unfortunate choice, as per above.

  11. I would bet that very little science is, or goes to, waste.

    On second thought I have to amend that, speaking from personal experience. Even if you can’t tell beforehand that experiments are waste, you can irrationally cling to hopes or expectations that are unfounded. And there are institutional reasons for waste as well, such as lack of instruments (i.e. lack of money and no lack of bureaucracy).

    So yes, even in the competitive situation of research there is room for waste. But in the larger picture, not so much as it can seem from merely filtering out “the good stuff” by some sort of measure.

  12. Well, for what is worth, I most definitely do not think this element is pointless, or the research about it, or even the naming. I merely think Copernicus deserved something more… well… stable.

    And can we please try not to be so self-centered? Cp means child porn?! In whose lexicon? I wouldn’t think of it in a million years.

    Besides, the very established symbol for copper, Cu, means “ass” in my language (that’s actually how it’s spelt; it’s not even a proximity leading to childish jokes as in the case of Uranus), and nobody complains.

    Most adults are able to separate things. And I think I’ll never understand people who raises this kinds of questions with obscure wordplays and do not try to ban the name Dick.

  13. Will Copernicus care? Folks, where Copernicus is at right now, either he DOESN’T care, or he CAN’T care. Get real. Such honors are needed for the living, not the dead.

    And I agree with the chorus of voices who are astonished that Cp means “child porn.” I would have never associated it with such. For that matter, take any double-character element symbol and try hard enough. I’ve no doubt you will find an attachable meaning that will be distasteful to someone.

  14. There may be fairly long-lived elements still to be discovered if the hypothetical ‘island of stability’ of even heavier elements is found to actually exist (see the Wiki entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability ). Although some of these hypothetical elements have unofficial names, I’d like to see one named “Newtonium”. 🙂

  15. Maybe in a future world; a time of super-hyper velocity spacecraft, FTL travel, anti-gravity and all that other fun stuff, Cp will exist longer due to relativistic effects. Cp could become important. Maybe warp engines will be constucted of Cp 111. ; )

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