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Volume 38, Issue 2 (Mar 2016)


Procedures for the Naming of a New Element

John Corish
  • Corresponding author
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Published Online: 2016-03-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2016-0205


The procedures to be followed in the naming of new elements fall into two distinct phases. The first of these is done jointly between IUPAC and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and involves the validation of a claimed discovery and its assignation to a laboratory or to a collaborating group of laboratories. The second phase is carried out by IUPAC alone, which utilises its standard procedures for the recommendation of a suitable name. After this recommendation has successfully gone through the usual stringent refereeing processes, it is then finally approved by the Council before being formally announced.

ED note – This short feature has been drafted in time to coincide with the announcement of the discovery and assignment of elements 113, 115, 117, and 118. (see Wire, page 16) A similar document was published by Herb Kaesz in CI March 2002, following the analysis of the claims for the syntheses of elements 110, 111, and 112 (www.iupac.org/publications/ci/2002/2402/elements110.html). Also timely and relevant is the recently revised recommendations on How to Name New Chemical Elements, prepared by Jan Reedijk et al. (see www.iupac.org/project/2015-031-1-200 or text box below)

PHASE 1—The Validation and Assignation of the Discovery

Claims for the discoveries of new elements appear from time to time in the scientific literature as articles reporting on the scientific research that has been carried out. The elements should be referred to in these papers using their atomic numbers, with IUPAC systematic names being assigned by adding the ending ‘...ium’ to the Latin name for the atomic number, e.g., ununseptium (Uus) and ununoctium (Uuo) for elements with atomic numbers 117 and 118, respectively.

To decide whether the claims made for these discoveries adequately fulfil the agreed criteria set down [1-3] as being necessary for the recognition and acceptance of the discovery of a new element, they are examined by a Joint Working Group (JWG) composed of experts drawn from IUPAC and IUPAP. The expert members of this JWG are chosen from a ten member panel—five members from each Union—that has been drawn up using procedures that have been agreed between the two Unions and are set out below as an Appendix. The members of the JWG are appointed as specified from this pre-existing panel which has been put in place and maintained in readiness by the Secretaries General of the two Unions, in consultation with their respective Presidents. Ideally, no members of the JWG chosen from the panel to determine the legitimacy of claims for a new element should be from any of the countries from which discovery claims have emanated. Obviously this ideal may not always be possible to achieve, particularly if there are multiple claims. The ‘Notes’ added to the procedures (Appendix) are taken from a series of exchanges between the Unions made during the setting up of earlier JWGs and reflect the real working experiences encountered on these occasions.

The Chair of the JWG works closely with the President of the Inorganic Chemistry Division (Division II) to examine the claims made. All the laboratories involved are notified of the establishment of the JWG in writing by the President of Division II and are invited to submit all relevant documentation to the JWG through its Chair. A deadline should be set for these submissions. The JWG then normally does its work through correspondence but, if required, a meeting can be held by applying to the IUPAC project system. When it has reached its conclusions, the JWG then prepares a technical report which, following the usual refereeing procedure, is published in the IUPAC journal Pure and Applied Chemistry. The report is also sent, usually simultaneously with this refereeing, to the laboratory or laboratories concerned, to be checked for technical accuracy. Examples of such reports are available [4-7]. This report should clearly state whether the claim made satisfies the criteria for the discovery of a new element in the opinion of the JWG. It should also clearly assign priority for the discovery to the laboratory or the collaborating groups who made the discovery. The report must be accepted and formally approved by the Inorganic Chemistry (Division II) Committee, and then also by the Executive Committees of both IUPAP and IUPAC.

How to Name New Chemical Elements

Reference 8, Naming of New Elements (IUPAC Recommendations 2002) by W. H. Koppenol. (Pure Appl. Chem. 74:787 (2002)) was recently revised and the corresponding provisional recommendation was set for public comments until 29 February 2016.

The document outlines the guidelines governing the choice of a name for a new element. After the discovery of a new element is established by the joint IUPAC-IUPAP 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 and is then ratified by the Council of IUPAC. This document is a slightly amended version of the 2002 IUPAC Recommendations; the most important change is that the names of all new elements should have an ending that reflects and maintains historical and chemical consistency. This would be in general “-ium” for elements belonging to groups 1-16, “-ine” for elements of group 17 and “-on” for elements of group 18.

Corresponding author: Jan Reedijk < >


The new elements, with their current placeholder three-letter symbols, situated within the Periodic Table

PHASE 2—The Naming of the New Element

When the discovery of a new element has been validated and the priority for its discovery has been assigned in Phase 1, the second phase in the naming process can begin. This phase is carried out within IUPAC, and is managed by the President of Division II, which bears overall responsibility for the naming of new elements. When the technical report of the JWG has been fully accepted, the President of Division II invites the leader of the laboratory or the representative(s) of the collaborating groups to which priority for the discovery has been assigned to propose a name and symbol for the new element. The name and symbol proposed must lie within the norms for the names of elements [8]. The proposal is first checked for approval by the Division II Committee and, if it is found acceptable, a provisional recommendation is then written by the President of Division II. If the proposed name or symbol is for any reason considered not to be acceptable, or is considered to need modification, then the President of Division II will discuss the reasons for the request for change with the discoverer(s) and invite a new proposal from them before writing a provisional recommendation. Examples of such [final] recommendations are available [9,10].

The Provisional Recommendation undergoes the usual refereeing procedure, which requires acceptance by at least fifteen experts. These are nominated by the President of Division II after consultation with its members. It must also undergo a period of five months public scrutiny during which anyone may send observations, comments, or objections to the President of Division II. Notice of the availability of the Provisional Recommendation for examination is issued on the IUPAC website. When the President of Division II is satisfied that the name and symbol proposed have been approved in the expert refereeing process and have successfully undergone the period of public examination, they are brought to the IUPAC Council for final approval. To avoid lengthy delays the Council may decide to delegate this approval to the Bureau. When this approval has been obtained, the name can be formally announced. It is customary for the Executive Director to issue a press release announcing the naming of the new element in collaboration with the Division II President, having beforehand informed the discoverer(s) of the date of that announcement.


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    A. H. Wapstra. Pure Appl. Chem. 63, 879 (1991).

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    R. C. Barber, N. N. Greenwood, A. Z. Hrynkiewicz, Y. P. Jeannin, M. Lefort, M. Sakai, I. Ulehla, A. H. Wapstra, D. H. Wilkinson. Pure Appl. Chem. 65, 1757 (1993).

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    R. C. Barber, N. N. Greenwood, A. Z. Hrynkiewicz, Y. P. Jeannin, M. Lefort, I. Ulehla, A. H. Wapstra, D. H. Wilkinson. Prog. Part. Nucl. Phys. 29, 453 (1992). [Crossref]

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    R. C. Barber, H. W. Gaggeler, P. J. Karol, H. Nakahara, E. Vardaci, E. Vogt. Pure Appl. Chem. 81, 1331 (2009).

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    [5] (a) R.C. Barber, P. J. Karol., H. Nakahara, E. Vardaci, E. W. Vogt. Pure Appl. Chem. 83, 1485 (2011); (b) Errata: ibid. Pure Appl. Chem. 83, 1801 (2011).

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    P. J. Karol, R. C. Barber, B. M. Sherrill, E. Vardaci, and T. Yamazaki. Pure Appl. Chem. 88, 139-153 (2016); DOI 10.1515/pac-2015-0502 [Crossref]

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    P. J. Karol, R. C. Barber, B. M. Sherrill, E. Vardaci, and T. Yamazaki. Pure Appl. Chem. 88, 155-160 (2016); DOI 10.1515/pac-2015-0501 [Crossref]

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    W. H. Koppenol. Pure Appl. Chem. 74, 787 (2002); see text box, page 9 for update.

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    K. Tatsumi and J. Corish. Pure Appl. Chem. 82, 753 (2010).

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APPENDIX. Guidelines for the appointment of Joint IUPAC/IUPAP Working Groups to Validate Claims for the Discovery of New Elements

A ten member panel of “Standing Nominees” will be compiled and maintained.

In forming the panel of Standing Nominees, the Presidents of IUPAC and IUPAP will each submit the names and credentials of five possible members for ratification by both Unions.

The geographical distribution of the panel of Standing Nominees should be as wide as possible.

The terms of the Standing Nominees should be determined by mutual agreement, but not exceed five years in the first instance. The Standing Nominees shall be eligible for reappointment up to a maximum of a further five years.

In the event of a claim requiring investigation, a Chair for the Working Group will be proposed from among the Standing Nominees by agreement of the Presidents of IUPAC and IUPAP.

The Chair of the Working Group will propose an additional four ordinary members selected from the remaining panel of Standing Nominees such that

the Members come from different countries,

the Members do not come from a claimant country, and that

each Union is represented by at least two members.

The Working Group will be submitted for ratification by both IUPAC and IUPAP before it becomes official.

Notes: The guidelines are designed to be helpful and not rigid. In fact one of the JWGs set up originally had six members and this is also quite acceptable. It has been found to be virtually impossible to meet the requirement of avoiding claimant countries among the nominees. It is also very important to provide sufficient continuity from any JWG to the next.

About the article

John Corish

John Corish < > is professor at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. He has served IUPAC at many levels since 1979, including chair of the Subcommittee on Materials Chemistry, member and president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division (from 1998 to 2001), and as treasurer (from 2008 to 2015), member, and currently chair of the Finance Committee.

Published Online: 2016-03-19

Published in Print: 2016-03-01

Citation Information: Chemistry International, ISSN (Online) 1365-2192, ISSN (Print) 0193-6484, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2016-0205. Export Citation

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