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Godzillium or Nipponium—Japan’s Newly Discovered Element 113

Japan rang in the new year as the first country in Asia to be credited with discovering and naming a new element to be added to the periodic table. The official recognition of element 113 was announced on December 31 by Kosuke Morita and his research team at Riken Institute. The synthetic element was about a decade in the making and The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has now awarded the Riken Institute the rights to name it.

Element 113 is highly radioactive and sits among other superheavy synthetics currently on the periodic table of elements. There were actually three other superheavy elements also recognized at around the same time as 113, created by other institutes in Russia and the United States. The four elements have so far been assigned their temporary Latin names: ununtrium (113), ununpentium (115), ununseptium (117) and ununoctium (118).

Research and discovery aside, the naming of elements has been made into a process in itself by the IUPAC, the organization also known for assigning more official names to chemical compounds. This is generally determined by the structure, size, shape and origin of the building blocks which make up the element. These technically descriptive names can be a tad cumbersome, to put it mildly, with some even containing thousands of letters—therefore nearly impossible to make any sense of by all but those who are well versed in such terminology. So the discoverers of various elements are given leeway to apply names of their choosing.

1954 Japanese Godzilla poster

Nikkei Asian Review reports that element 113 will most likely be named either Japonium or Nipponium. Makes sense…But with all of the elements in mind, there have been numerous suggestions being thrown around for names. The New York Times actually invited reader suggestions on this topic and were seeing standouts such as Godzillium or Rikenium. For the heavy metal element 115, “Lemmium” was proposed in a petition—inspired by recently departed Motörhead lead man, Lemmy Kilmister. And just for the hell of it people were throwing out suggestions such as “Adamantium” and even “Trumpium”.

Naming fun aside, what does it all mean beyond lots of painstaking experiments, high fives and celebration in select scientific circles? Are there practical applications for highly unstable radioactive elements created in labs? Well, it is said that creating these elements could potentially help in better understanding the fission process, quantum mechanics and even give more insight on how our universe functions. For those interested, there’s more “light reading” on the topic here.