Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ununbium - a "new" element

Some may have noticed a little article on the right of the front page of the Ottawa Citizen... "Hey, science fans, there’s a new element in town". In it, Tom Spears implies that the discovery of element number 112, known as Ununbium, is a novel thing.

Here's the problem. As an avid science fan, and chemist, my first reaction was "wasn't 112 there last time I looked at the periodic table?". And, sure enough, all the PTs in the lab (none of which were printed in the last 12 hours) all indicate element 112 there, smiling at me below mercury and just raising the question about what prompted the article... and its front page position.

So, here's the wikipedia scoop. Ununbium was first discovered in 1996, in Darmstadt, Germany. Like most of it's heavy brothers, 112 is synthesised by smashing things together, in this case, its lead and zinc. So what is new? Well, the IUPAC overseers of these things have re-confirmed that the discovery was real, and have credited those German discoverers with the first atom of Ununbium... meaning they can now name it.

So, is this a case of a journalist getting it all wrong in science? Am I being too pedantic by getting annoyed at how it's taken 12 years for this discovery to be reported by the Ottawa Citizen... and even then that they haven't really told the story.

What are some of the worst examples of science reporting that you can think of?


Anonymous Coward said...

About time they name those atoms. Ununbium literally means "one one two". Bayblabium would make a nice tongue twister.

Kamel said...

Yeah that was weirdly written, with no acknowledgement that this element already exists. I guess if it's finally being made official (more official, since it's already been printed on PTs as you point out?) then it's still "news". Or maybe we've just been using unofficial PTs? I always wondered why mine had room for "the element of surprise"

As for bad science reporting - how about Ida?

Bayman said...

I think this story is supposed to be about showing this element can be formed artificially, whereas previously it had only been hypotesized to exist. The press release clearly failed to make the distinction.

The Doc said...

Nu-uh... the element was MADE in 1996. Not hypothesized... made.