New Heavy Element Likely to Be Named for Copernicus

The newest — and heaviest — element on the periodic table could get tagged with the name "copernicium" in honor of the late astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

"We would like to honor an outstanding scientist, who changed our view of the world," said Sigurd Hofmann, head of the discovery team at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, discovered that the Earth orbits the sun, thus paving the way for our modern view of the world.

Thirteen years ago, GSI scientists discovered element 112 or "Cp" after bombarding zinc ions (charged zinc atoms) onto a lead target in the facility's particle accelerator.

Since the element decays after a split second, its existence could only be proved with the help of extremely fast and sensitive analysis methods. A team of 21 scientists from Germany, Finland, Russia and Slovakia were involved in the experiments that led to the discovery of element 112.

However, it was only a few weeks ago that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially confirmed the discovery. In around six months, IUPAC is expected to officially endorse the new element's name. (This period will allow the scientific community to discuss the suggested label 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. By definition, the atomic number is equal to the element's number of protons.

Live Science Staff
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