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Chemical element No. 110 finally gets a name -- darmstadtium

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

By Michael Woods, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- One of the last unnamed building blocks of the universe is finally getting an official moniker -- after almost 10 years of being stuck with a makeshift Latin name that translates as "one-one-oh-ium."

The decision on a name for chemical element No. 110 will mean instant obsolescence for current versions of the Periodic Table of the Elements, the charts that hang in chemistry classrooms and appear in textbooks around the world.

The International Union for Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) made the revision necessary yesterday by recommending that Element No. 110 be named "darmstadtium" and carry the symbol "Ds."

Official adoption of the name leaves only three chemical elements with temporary names. Elements are the basic chemical substances that make up everything in the universe -- from water, food, genes, and people to the glowing gasses in distant stars.

"This proposal lies within the long-established tradition of naming an element after the place of its discovery," IUPAC said in a statement from headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

An organization of chemists from more than 80 countries, IUPAC has duties that include selecting official names, symbols and terms used in the science.

Element 110 was discovered in 1994 by scientists at the Laboratory for Heavy Ion Research, known as GSI, in Darmstadt, Germany. They later exercised the prerogative of discoverers, and proposed its name.

However, it took years for IUPAC to complete a painstaking process of verifying the discovery, and endorsing GSI's proposed name.

Chemists around the world will have a chance to comment before the name becomes official. But with no controversy about the discovery's validity or the name, approval is almost certain.

The periodic table lists 92 naturally occurring elements, such as copper, iron, calcium, and carbon.

In addition, scientists have made other elements with devices like "atom smashers," huge machines that fuse together light elements to produce heavier ones. Among them are plutonium, the nuclear weapons material. GSI scientists made Element 110 by an atom of nickel and lead.

Until IUPAC acts, however, new elements get interim names based on Latin terms for their atomic number. Darmstadtium's old name, for instance, was "ununnilium" ("un" for one; "un" for one; "nil" for zero; followed by "ium," the now-standard suffix applied to all elements.

The three remaining unnamed elements are stuck with oddball names -- "unununium" for Element No. 111; "ununbium" for No. 112; and "ununquadium" for No. 114.

Two other unnamed synthetic elements, No. 116 and No. 118, were wiped off the periodic table last year after investigators found that a scientist had faked data about their discovery.

Michael Woods can be reached at mwoods@nationalpress.com or 1-202-662-7072.

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