Uut is the periodic symbol for Ununtrium, element no. 113, while Uup is the symbol for Ununpentium, element no. 115. Their discovery was jointly announced a few days ago by the Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
I got thinking about how we name companies and products. What happens when we discover new elements, especially ones on the outer fringes of the periodic table? Where did Uut and Uup come from?
In a cyclotron particle accelerator, researchers fired an isotope of calcium at a target of americium. The new element 115 was created (for only a fraction of a second) when the nuclei of the calcium and americium fused. It immediately decayed into element 113, this time lasting over a second. These superheavy elements do not exist naturally on earth; they may be generated by supernova explosions in stars, or by fusions during the dawn of the universe. Yet, how they come to be born may ultimately establish a unified theory of the physical forces governing matter.
According to the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, elements are provisionally designated in terms expressing their atomic numbers in Latin. For example, “ununnilium” (one-one-zero for 110) or “unununium” (one-one-one for 111). So “ununtrium” is Latin for one-one-three, and “ununpentium” for one-one-five. Once the results have been confirmed by other scientists, someone gets to pick a real name.
This provisional designation is important because such discoveries are difficult to confirm. In 1999, California and Oregon University researchers bombarded a lead target with a beam of krypton ions. They reported detecting three atoms of element 118, the heaviest element ever detected. But two years ago, these claims were retracted after a scientist was found to have fabricated data.
In short, here’s the procedure to name new elements: “After the discovery of a new element is confirmed by a joint IUPAC-IUPAP (International Union of Pure and Applied Physics) Working Group, the discoverers are invited to propose a name and a symbol to the IUPAC Inorganic Chemistry Division. Elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property, or a scientist. After examination and acceptance by the Inorganic Chemistry Division, the proposal follows the accepted IUPAC procedure for recommendations, and is then submitted to the Council of IUPAC for approval.”
Maybe we can learn something from this rational process. There are clearly too many names in the world, especially for products with unsubstantiated claims and unproven track records. (Not to mention twentieth-century quackery: Enron and Parmalat? Enough said.) Imagine if all new products were simply designated by number (Latin would be fine) until they proved their worth? Every start-up would simply be a number until it turned a profit. Names would then be granted upon certification by the International Union of Pure Honesty and Applied Human Needs. We could limit names to places, people, planets, mythological concepts, unusual font families.
Oh, that our cereal aisle had brands named Uuu, Uub, Uut, Uuq, Uup, Uuh, Uus and Uuo.
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