Motörhead fans still mourning the death of the band's singer, songwriter and bassist, Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister, in December are seeking commemoration for the rock icon in an unusual location — the periodic table.
A petition launched on Change.org by John Wright of York, United Kingdom, proposed "Lemmium" as a name for element 115, quickly gathering thousands of signatures. The element holds the cumbersome temporary working name "ununpentium" and the temporary symbol Uup, according to a statement issued by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) on Dec. 30, 2015. (The name references the Latin roots of "115," the numerals in the element's atomic number.)
The IUPAC officially added element 115 and three other new elements to the table, according to the statement. The four elements are among the heaviest to date and the first to be added since 2011, completing the table's seventh row.
This news might not have normally caught the attention of your average heavy metal headbanger, but Lemmy, as he was widely known, had died only two days before the IUPAC announcement, on Dec. 28, and his loss was still fresh in many fans' minds. When these yet-to-be-named "superheavy" elements were made public, Wright recognized a uniquely appropriate opportunity to honor a man who, for many, embodied the heavy metal genre. [Video: Head-Banging Bee Puts Metal Heads to Shame]
Lemmy, a member of Motörhead since the band's formation in 1975, famously lived the "sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll" lifestyle to the fullest. While other band members rotated in and out over the years, Lemmy remained a permanent fixture. He was a larger-than-life figure whose snarling vocals and frantic bass-playing churned with raw energy, defining the fast-paced, high-powered rock music that came to be known as heavy metal, his fans have said. (Lemmy usually declined to label Motörhead as heavy metal, describing the group's music as rock and roll.)
On the petition's website, Wright wrote, "We believe it is fitting that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recommend that one of the four newly discovered heavy metals in the periodic table is named Lemmium." As of Jan. 12, the petition is just a few thousand entries away from its goal of 150,000 signatures.
Naming these new elements is a privilege generally reserved for the scientists who identified them. "The discoverers from Japan, Russia and the USA will now be invited to suggest permanent names and symbols," IUPAC officials announced in the statement. According to the IUPAC naming conventions, "New elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property, or a scientist," which would seem to rule out the inclusion of a hard-partying rock-and-roller, no matter how iconic he might be.
Once IUPAC's Inorganic Chemistry Division accepts a proposed name (and two-letter symbol), the name undergoes a five-month public review process, after which the IUPAC's Council, the group's highest body, finalizes the element's official name and symbol. This heralds the element's official introduction into the periodic table of the elements.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Mindy Weisberger is a Live Science editor for the channels Animals and Planet Earth. She also reports on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.