There's a new element officially in town and its name is copernicium, after the 16th-century Polish scientist Nicholas Copernicus. It is element 112 and its symbol is Cn.
Copernicium, a heavier relative of zinc, cadmium and mercury, was first seen in 1996 by researchers at the Society for Heavy Ions Research in Darmstadt, Germany, after they bombarded a lead target with zinc ions.
It took the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which regulates nomenclature, nearly 14 years to resolve disputes between the Germans and American researchers over who was first to produce the new element, but the agency reported in the March issue of the journal Pure and Applied Chemistry that the Germans had priority and are thus entitled to propose a name.
Physicist Sigurd Hofmann, leader of the German team, said in a statement that the researchers' intent was to "salute an influential scientist who didn't receive any accolades in his own lifetime, and highlight the link between astronomy and the field of nuclear chemistry." Copernicus was the first scientist to conclude that the planets of the solar system revolve around the sun rather than the Earth.
The new name follows in the recent tradition of naming synthetic elements after famous scientists. Others include:
* Element 111, roentgenium, named after German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen, who discovered X-rays.
* Element 109, meitnerium, named after Austrian born Swedish physicist Lise Meitner, who worked on the team that discovered nuclear fission.
* Element 107, bohrium, named after Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who made fundamental contributions to the understanding of atomic structure and quantum mechanics.
* Element 106, seaborgium, named after American physicist Glenn Seaborg, who pioneered the discovery of artificially produced elements.
* Element 110 is named darmstadtium after the city where it was discovered, while 108 is named hassium from the Latin name for the German state of Hesse, where Darmstadt is located.
The IUPAC has not yet resolved competing claims over the discovery of elements 113 through 118.