National Geographic : 2010 Feb
ART: BRIAN REA Name That Element Last year the periodic table welcomed the 112th element, a product of nuclear fusion. A German-led team had identified 112, the heaviest element yet, in 1996. They want to dub it copernicium in honor of 16th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, whose sun-centric model of the planetary system mirrors the structure of an atom, with electrons orbiting a nucleus. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry should sign off on the label this year. Traditionally, scientists named elements more or less at will, favoring planets, mythological figures, or properties like color. In the 1800s nationalism kicked in, and researchers paid homage to native lands. U.S. and Soviet scientists later tangled over names of elements they'd vied to discover. In recent years IUPAC issued naming guidelines to avert scuffles. One rule: Until a name is finalized, a Latin-based placeholder is assigned. For element 112, it's the ungainly "ununbium"---or one one two. ---Hannah Bloch SCIENCE NAMED FOR ... Francium derives from its discoverer's native France. Promethium, found via nuclear fission, refers to the figure from Greek myth who stole fire from the gods. Rhodium turns pink in solution. It's named for rhodon, Greek for "rose." Plutonium follows neptunium in the peri- odic table, just as Pluto comes after Neptune. Helium, glimpsed in a solar eclipse, is from helios, Greek for "sun."