In recent years periodic tables joined maps as the most expensive pull-down charts seen in many schoolrooms due to update costs because new elements are being discovered (actually created) about as fast as new countries are created, borders changed, or countries change names. Sadly, most U.S. schools will continue to use the old maps and periodic tables since science has such a low priority in a country that Scott Pruitt, the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is suing the same EPA over what he calls climate change.

Introducing elements 113, 115, 117, and 118

The four new elements, after having suffered with the humorous temporary names ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium during the official review and commentary period, got permanent names in June 2016.

That is when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry gave them their official names, making way for them to complete the seventh row of the periodic table, including a new inert gas. Three of the new elements (all created in laboratories) were named for the location of their discoverer’s schools, Tennessine (Tennessee), Nihonium (Japan) and Moscovium (Moscow), while the fourth was named Oganesson for Yuri Oganessian, a professor of nuclear Physics professor at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research.

Tom Lehrer where are you now?

In addition to an opportunity for printers to sell new, updated periodic tables there is a crying need for someone to update the famous “Elements Song,” (1959, Tom Lehrer, a now 88-year-old songwriter/mathematician) which was recently sung on The Big Bang Theory when a drunk Sheldon demonstrated where to see Uranus, and tried to lead the crowd ("just the Asians now") in singing the periodic table.

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Interestingly another Big Bang episode showed Sheldon helping Japanese physicists create a new element, although he did it by misreading a table, probably in “The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics,” CRC Publishing.

Just what do nuclear physicists do?

Being part of a relatively young science (only 104 years old) experimental nuclear physicists, as some have suspected, essentially just spend their lives banging very tiny rocks (elements) together to see what happens, while their theoretical nuclear physicist colleagues try to predict what will happen when their colleagues bang the rocks together but from the safety of their nice clean offices, often far from the experiments.

Some who don't see the usefulness of science think the major difference between a 7-year-old banging rocks together and a physicist banging tiny, tiny particles together is that the kid just needs two rocks while the physicist might work at CERN and needs a $13.25B slingshot/gun which costs another $1B/year to keep in fresh rubber bands.

New elements, where were they hiding?

You might think that with all the nuclear physicists in the world (there were 8 in my class vs 11,000 freshmen engineers) we would already know all the elements and that’s quite true, the natural 92 elements, ending with Uranium, had all been discovered in nature by 1939 when Francium (named by/for french physicist Marguerite Perey) was found.

Any element with an atomic number (equal to the number of protons or electrons - the same) above 92, in other words with more protons than Uranium, was created or synthesized by physicists banging together lighter elements or bombarding heavy elements with additional protons.

The new element with 117 neutrons has a relatively long half-life of 78 milliseconds. It is thought that if physicists can produce an element with very long half-life, possibly in the millions of years if they can make one with enough neutrons. Such matter could have fantastic new properties.