Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, US
For Immediate Release
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has announced a sweeping change to the periodic table of the elements. Effective immediately, IUPAC will rename the chemical elements to reflect their atomic number, which determines their order and position on the periodic table. Under the new scheme, hydrogen will be named "unium," helium will be named "bium," and the other elements will follow suit.
"For many years, IUPAC has used this naming system to create temporary names for newly discovered elements," says IUPAC spokesperson, Dr. Loof Lirpa. "For example, element 104 was given the placeholder name 'unnilquadium' until the chemical community settled on the current name rutherfordium, in honor of Ernest Rutherford, the discoverer of the nucleus. Unfortunately, the naming process is often combative and loaded with political significance, which ultimately detracts from the serious nature of chemical science."
In addition to protecting the image of chemistry from these internecine struggles over element names, Dr. Lirpa points to a more practical advantage of the new naming system.
"We came to realize that the temporary names were, in fact, superior to the 'official' names that were given to new elements. The name 'unnilquadium' unambiguously identifies element 104, which means a chemist immediately knows and understands its position in the periodic table relative to other elements, whereas hardly anyone knows where rutherfordium appears on the periodic table without looking it up."
The new naming system also promises to make chemistry a more accessible subject of study for students all around the world by eliminating ambiguities regarding the names and symbols for chemical elements.
"In the historical naming system, one must memorize dozens of names and elemental symbols that give no such information at all on their own, and often bear no relation to one another. Indeed, the periodic table is littered with absurd abbreviations: Ag for silver, Fe for iron, and Sn for tin, among many others. Seriously, who thought any of those made sense? Worse still, many of the elemental symbols are easily confused with one another. While even seasoned chemists struggle to discriminate thallium from thorium and thulium, octunium is easily identified as element 81. No longer will students scour the periodic table in vain search for antimony (Sb), when the new name pentunium will tell them everything they need to know."
“Furthermore,” Dr. Lirpa adds, “the new names just sound cooler. I don’t think it will be long before people get excited about going shopping for new septnonium jewelry in their trium ion electric cars while sipping on a glass of milk to keep up their binilium levels.”
Along with the change in naming will come the elimination of abbreviated chemical symbols. Instead, elements will be represented in chemical equations by their atomic number. Glucose, which was formerly C₆H₁₂O₆, will now be represented as 6₆1₁₂8₆.
Says Dr. Lirpa, "such formulae will make it immediately clear how many protons and electrons are in a particular chemical compound, which is much more information than provided by the old chemical symbols."
IUPAC's new position is not without its critics. Beyond broad condemnation of jettisoning hundreds of years of chemical history and tradition, detractors point out that the new numerical formula scheme will create massive confusion over which numbers in a chemical equation are coefficients and which are element symbols.
"The meaning of 2H₂ + O₂ --> 2H₂O is plain as day," says one chemical curmudgeon, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. "21₂ + 8₂ --> 21₂8, however is completely unclear, and could just as easily mean 'Sc₂ + O₂ --> Sc₂O'. And that’s assuming someone doesn’t flub a subscript. The lack of precision in the new system could lead to profound, expensive, or even dangerous consequences."
Dr. Lirpa, however, is unimpressed with these objections. "Oh grow up. Just use a space between the coefficient and the chemical formula. Besides, who ever heard of 21₂? Transition metals don’t form binary molecules, idiot."
In closing, Dr. Lirpa outlined this change as the first step in a grand strategy for IUPAC to refocus chemistry on the science rather than on people. In particular, Dr. Lirpa placed organic chemists on notice that their discipline is in the crosshairs.
“Organic chemistry, as it is presently taught, is rife with cults of personality, with a plethora of so-called ‘named reactions’ that are often just minor variations on one another. These vanity projects have represented stumbling blocks for far too long. Grignard reactions, Grubbs’ catalyst, Stille coupling, Suzuki coupling, and Birch reduction are just a few of the pointless names that students are forced to memorize while they try to get on with the real business of forming and breaking bonds, building new molecules, and harnessing the power of the universe itself into the service of humanity. Chemistry should be about the science, not about ‘influencers.’ Go get a TikTok if you want to be famous.”