Element 106 name change being reconsidered

May 12, 1995

By Lynn Yarris, LCYarris@LBL.gov

Responding to an international wave of criticism surrounding the decision to remove the name "seaborgium" from element 106 and impose name changes on other transuranium elements as well, the executive committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has recommended that the organization's decision be reconsidered.

This week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) reports that IUPAC's executive committee is urging that the organization reopen public discussion of the names proposed for all the transuranium elements from 101 to 109. A final decision on the matter will be made in August.

Last fall, the IUPAC nomenclature committee stunned the scientific community by rejecting the names proposed for elements 104 to 108 by their discoverers and submitting their own names instead (see Currents, Oct. 14, 1994). These new names were published as "definitive" in IUPAC's official journal, Pure and Applied Chemistry.

IUPAC's decision met immediate opposition from leading scientists and scientific organizations throughout the world. The strongest criticism was directed towards the removal of the name seaborgium from element 106. This element was discovered in 1974 at LBL by a team of researchers led by LBL physicist Albert Ghiorso and LLNL chemist Kenneth Hulet, who named it in honor of Glenn T. Seaborg, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and associate director-at-large of LBL.

Reaction to the IUPAC decision was typified by the response of LBL Director Charles Shank, who said, "There has never been any debate about the right of acknowledged discoverers to name an element." Shank said the Laboratory would "strongly defend this privilege." Many others joined the fight and in November, the nomenclature committee of the American Chemical Society (ACS) rejected the IUPAC names and unanimously endorsed the names given elements 104 to 108 by their American and German discoverers.

According to the C&EN report, the IUPAC executive committee has bowed to the pressure and is now recommending that the IUPAC names be reverted back to a "provisional" status. Such a reversion of names already published in the IUPAC journal as "definitive" would be unprecedented. However, it would allow for the standard IUPAC process of public debate on the proposed names to take place--a process IUPAC previously by-passed.

If the names of 106 and the other transuranium elements in question are submitted for public debate, chemists will have five months to submit their comments through one of 19 centers around the world. The U.S. center is located at the ACS Journals Department in Columbus, Ohio. Final recommendations on the names would then be submitted for ratification by IUPAC at its 1997 council meeting.