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Meet the New Elements

Inside an atom

You probably remember looking at a periodic table of elements on the wall of your science classroom at school, or maybe in a textbook. But when was the last time you looked at a periodic table?

Do you remember seeing a few blank squares at the end of the seventh row? Those blanks were for chemical elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, which scientists knew existed, but hadn't actually seen until now. Scientists actually first observed them in the lab years ago, but they've only been verified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, or IUPAC, this year.

What took so long? These elements' high atomic numbers means they're very unstable. They only exist for a tiny fraction of a second before decaying, which makes it hard to prove they were ever there.

So what do we call our newly minted members of the periodic table? For now, they're called ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium. Quite the tongue-twisters! Sorry, high schoolers.

Hopefully they can hold off on the flashcards; these are just placeholder names. Now that the elements are officially recognized, scientists can propose formal symbols and names. They're traditionally based on mythology, a mineral, a property, a place, or a scientist. IUPAC also considers how easily people can pronounce ununpentium and ununseptium are probably out.

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