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The Periodic Table Gets Update With 4 New Elements


Chemistry junkies rejoice. The periodic table is getting four new elements. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry - that's the group that makes the official call - has verified the discoveries.


The elements will eventually be named by the teams that discovered them. For now, they're known by their Latin placeholder names, which are kind of a mouthful. So for those of you following along on your periodic tables at home, just know that they are numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118. The announcement was especially exciting for Jim Roberto at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, part of the team that discovered 115 and 117.

JIM ROBERTO: Well, we got the news on New Year's Eve (laughter), so we were already celebrating.

CORNISH: The new elements are synthetic, very unstable and extremely rare.

ROBERTO: Over an experiment that lasted six months, we observed six atoms.

CORNISH: Those atoms had lifetimes between 20 and 40 milliseconds. That should give you a clue that there's not yet a practical application of this research on the horizon. But Roberto says it's an important step in our scientific understanding of atoms.


MCEVERS: This news got us thinking about the all-but-official audio version of the periodic table which students use to memorize the elements.


TOM LEHRER: There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium and nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium and iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium...

MCEVERS: Tom Lehrer's "The Elements," of course - every known element circa 1959. Quite a few have been discovered since then, and we wondered if he had plans to update.

CORNISH: When we called him up, he said he didn't feel the need to add a new verse. There's no way to work in all those new names, he said. Although, many people who have a, quote, "elastic sense of rhyme" have tried.

MCEVERS: And maybe that's for the best. The hunt for element 119 is already underway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.