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New Zealand Science Teacher

Standing Committees

Periodic Table – more changes

by Suzanne Boniface

Periodic Table – more changes!

Just when we thought it was safe to print our new up-to-date periodic tables the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has approved the names of the last super heavy elements to be discovered: elements 114 and 116. These elements were first discovered more than ten years ago by scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, near Moscow in Russia, and Lawrence Livermore, California, USA.

Element 114 – Flevorium:

Element 114 will be named flevorium and given the atomic symbol Fl. Flerovium was chosen to honour the Flerov Laboratory where element 114 was synthesised. The laboratory was named after Georgii Flerov (1913–1990), a physicist who discovered the spontaneous fission of uranium.

Element 116 – Livermorium:

Element 116 will be named livermorium and have the atomic symbol Lv. Livermorium was chosen to honour the Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory in California from where a group of researchers joined with those of the Flerov Laboratory to carry out the work in Dubna which resulted in the synthesis of element 116.

The cooperation and collaboration that has occurred in the discovery and naming of these two elements is a far cry from the controversy that surrounded the naming of some of the other heavy elements discovered in the 1960s and ‘70s. It is usual for the discoverers of new elements to be given naming rights with the names needed to be approved and made official by the appropriate IUPAC committee.

However, during the Cold War there was considerable competition between scientists in the US and Russia later joined by those from West Germany. As a consequence, there were differing claims for the discovery of some of the elements and different proposals for their names. For example, the competing names for element 104 (rutherfordium and kurchatovium) were used for nearly three decades by competing laboratories.

In 1995, IUPAC convened a committee of nine scientists to sort out the naming of elements 104 to 109. This committee introduced further controversy by refusing to accept the proposal by the discoverers of element 106 to name it seaborgium after Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist. Seaborg was the principal or co-discoverer of ten elements: plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium. The committee decided that no element should be named for a living person, despite the fact that Einstein was still alive when element 99 was named after him. Such was the outcry about this decision that it was overturned two years later and element 106 was ratified as seaborgium, three years before Glenn Seaborg died.

Knitting the Periodic Table (IYC project)

To celebrate the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), a group of knitters from around New Zealand and all over the world, have knitted all the named elements (that is, those named before August 2011) from hydrogen to copernicum. Each person knitted one element or a blank square that helped make the table into a large rectangle as seen in the picture above.

There is a total of 162 squares, an estimated 8km of wool and about 700 hours of work. The finished work is 3.7m by 1.9m (see photo). The Table will eventually hang at Victoria University, but it can travel (with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation) if you have a special event in mind.

Some knitters had special connections with the elements they chose to knit. The knitter who chose carbon worked in NZ’s carbon dating laboratory in the 1960s. The knitter of calcium encountered many different forms of calcium in bird bones, while doing his PhD. Some people chose an element that matched their initials. Others just liked the names!

The knitted periodic table was a joint initiative between the Institute of Chemistry, the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington and the Royal Society. Perhaps it could inspire some collaboration between your technology, art and science departments to find creative ways of reproducing this icon of the chemical sciences.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz

Another initiative that the NZ Institute of Chemistry undertook for International Year of Chemistry was to invite Dr. Joe Schwarcz to NZ. Joe is the Director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has received numerous awards for interpreting science for the general public.

His books “Radar, Hula Hoops and Playful Pigs,” “The Genie in the Bottle,” “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles,” “Dr. Joe & What You Didn’t Know,” “The Fly in the Ointment,” “Let Them Eat Flax,” “Brain Fuel,” “An Apple A Day,” “Science, Sense and Nonsense,” and his latest, “Dr. Joe’s Brain Sparks” have all been best sellers and would make a great addition to any school or science department library.

If you missed hearing Joe while he was in New Zealand, you can hear him debunk many of the popular myths about chemistry on his regular radio broadcasts and blog: here

You can also download his talk with Kim Hill from RadioNZ here

For further information contact: Suzanne.Boniface@vuw.ac.nz

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