While you were obsessing about Donald Trump’s candidacy for
president of the United States, four new elements (VERY heavy
ones, at that) were added to the periodic table. The body which
recognizes these new elements and gives credit to the scientist
or team of scientists who discovered them has approved these
new elements and assigned credit to three of them to a (believe
it or not) Russian-American team working together to create
elements 115, 117 and 118. A Japanese team were designated
discoverers of new element 113.
Each of these new elements has only a temporary name; only
the official discoverers have the right to give them a permanent
name. The new names are expected to be announced within a
few months (elements are frequently named after famous
Heavy elements such as these are always synthetic, and actually
exist only for a fraction of a second or so. They are created by
bombarding existing subatomic parts of existing elements
against each other.
I do not know exactly what the effective purpose is of creating a
new element that lasts for less time than an eye blinks, but news
reports do say that the addition of the four new elements fills
up the seventh row of the periodic table. My guess is that
anything that gives temporary peace of mind to our scientists
these days is worth something. Unlike earlier eras, scientific
theories in our own time usually last no longer than one of these
new elements, and that has to be unnerving to someone whose
whole professional life depends on scientific theories.
High school and college text book publishers, of course, are
delighted. Current text books are now hopelessly out of date,
especially with their dangling seventh periodic row. Fortunately,
new publishing technology enables instant correction for the
There is, of course, already a political correctness aspect to
these discoveries. The British Guardian newspaper originally
reported that the four elements were “man-made,” but the
word police pounced on them instantly. The Guardian duly
published an apology and revised the adjective to “synthetic.”
I might also comment that the lifetime of each of these new
elements might be somewhat similar to the duration of
Donald Trump’s lead in the polls, but I’m getting ahead of
I also note that while the presidential election campaign is
quite diverting for many or most Americans (including yours
truly), there are many other aspects of human activity going on
during, and even in spite of, U.S. presidential politics.
Out of respect for my late brother (who was a truly important
American physicist whose contribution has affected everyone),
I want to make clear that I do not take the subject of physics
In an age of falling global birth rates, it’s nice to know that
some populations are increasing.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.