Friday, 8 January 2016

Four new elements added to periodic table

New chemical elements spark little reaction
By Jasmine Osada, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2016

The new school year started just four days ago and the periodic table - an essential part of any chemistry lesson - is already outdated.

The chart, which lists chemical elements by their atomic numbers, will gain four new elements, said the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the US-based global authority on chemistry, on Dec 30 last year. They complete the seventh row of the chart.

Discovered by scientists in Japan, Russia and the United States, elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 are the first to be added to the table in four years. The previous entries were elements 114 and 116 in 2011.

The new elements, all synthetic, will be known for now by their working names of ununtrium (Uut or 113), ununpentium (Uup or 115), ununseptium (Uus or 117) and ununoctium (Uuo or 118).

"The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row," said Professor Jan Reedijk, president of the IUPAC's Inorganic Chemistry Division. "IUPAC has now initiated the process of formalising names and symbols for these elements."

While the update has created lots of buzz in the scientific community, educators here say it is unlikely to create waves in schools.

"The discoveries will definitely cause many textbooks around the world to be rendered out of date. This update would probably interest students, but (when it comes to affecting the syllabus) at secondary level, the impact may not be high," said a secondary school chemistry teacher who gave her name as Ms Goh.

Mr Joel Liu, 30, the founder of Bright Culture Tuition Centre, agreed that students doing the O and A levels should not worry, as the four new elements would not be taught in depth in secondary school or junior college.

Mr Liu, who has been a chemistry tutor for 12 years, said he would be teaching his students about this new discovery, saying: "This is a good opportunity to engage my students and let them see how chemistry relates to the real world. It is a good way to increase their interest in this subject."

No need to update science textbooks yet
New additions to periodic table do not critically affect curriculum: MOE
By Amelia Teng and Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2016

Science textbooks in Singapore will not be updated immediately to reflect the four latest additions to the periodic table.

This is because the new elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 do not "critically affect" the concepts taught in the science curriculum, the Education Ministry said on Thursday.

But an MOE spokesman said the science curriculum is kept updated through regular reviews.

She added that MOE will continue to monitor developments at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) on the official names of the new elements - which currently have temporary names - before briefing teachers and updating its resources.

The periodic table is a key part of chemistry lessons in schools.

Scientists in Singapore said they, too, did not see an urgent need to amend textbooks, as science is constantly evolving.

The United States-based IUPAC, the global authority on chemistry, last month said the table's seventh row was now complete with the latest additions. The four new elements were discovered by scientists in Japan, Russia and the US, and will be named by the scientific teams which discovered them.

For now, they are being called ununtrium (Uut or 113), ununpentium (Uup or 115), ununseptium (Uus or 117), and ununoctium (Uuo or 118).

This is the first time that the table has been updated since 2011, when elements 114 and 116 were added.

Not found in nature, the new elements are synthetic and are highly unstable - existing for less than a second before breaking down into other elements.

Associate Professor Robin Chi, from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said the discovery of the new elements does not change much of the chemistry or physics principles known to date.

But it "opens new areas in atomic physics, nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry and beyond", and should become part of students' common knowledge, he said.

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, chief executive of the Singapore Science Centre, said the more important thing is for teachers to inculcate in their students that "the more we know, the more we do not know".

The idea, he added, is to "spur interest in understanding how the periodic table has come about" rather than to believe "the textbook says so, therefore the exam answer should be this".

National Junior College chemistry teacher Harman Johll said: "There is no impact on the material science associated with daily life; students should know this. But it goes beyond filling gaps in the periodic table - it represents a step forward in illuminating gaps in our understanding of the sub-atomic world."

Have you checked out our interactive periodic table with a video for every element?
Posted by TED-Ed on Monday, March 7, 2016

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