What should we name the new elements? Chris Chapman, Chemistry World‘s comment editor, puts forward the case for his favourite…

The news that we have four new elements is, obviously, buttock-clenchingly exciting for chemistry name nerds. The four new confirmed elements – 113, 115, 117 and 118 – will now have a proper name instead of the tongue-twisting ununpentium and the like. This can be proposed by the discoverers, although the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (Iupac) will get the final say. According to its latest rules, currently out for consultation, the elements can be named after a mythological concept or character; a mineral; a place; a property of the element; or a scientist. The endings of the elements are already decided: 113 and 115 will end in ‘ium’, 117 ‘ine’, and 118 ‘on’.

© Everett Collection/REX Shutterstock

Captain America – © Everett Collection/REX Shutterstock

So here’s a suggestion to the Japanese Riken group (discoverers for 113) or the Russian-American collaboration who discovered 115. How about vibranium?

Vibranium, as any comic book nerd knows, is a key element that comprises Captain America’s shield, and gives the irritatingly squeaky clean hero a way to dink bullets away, or a handy Frisbee to take out some bothersome villains. It’s also the element that Tony Stark ‘invents’ in the abysmal Iron Man 2 to end his crippling palladium dependency. Bizarrely, in the movie in turns out the element’s structure was hidden by his father (John Slattery, playing exactly the same character as he did in Mad Men) in a diorama of a 1974 business expo. Tony proceeds to go on a drinking binge, hurl abuse at Don Cheadle and miraculously create the element at his Malibu pad with little more than his raw genius.

This ‘discovery’ is further brought in to question in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when the Avengers (Tony Stark included) ship off to the African state of Wakanda to get some mined vibranium. That’s right – the element Stark ‘invented’ from his lunatic father’s model village turns out to be a cornerstone of industry in an African kingdom ruled by King T’Challa, who goes by the rather uncomfortable superhero moniker Black Panther. Indeed, according to Marvel canon, Wakanda is an industrial powerhouse that dominates Africa, largely due to its vibranium monopoly. This pretty much torpedoes Stark’s invention claims – he probably just placed an order for the element on Amazon while he was on his bender.

If vibranium’s fictional discovery wasn’t mad enough, Marvel insists vibranium is an ‘anti-metal’, capable of dissolving other elements, which makes you wonder how they made it into an alloy to start with. It has the ability to absorb vibrations (a tick in the Iupac box), and, should it be shattered, creates some kind of chain reaction that blows up all other vibranium in range; to the delight of Daily Mail readers everywhere, in the comics this is known inexplicably as ‘vibranium cancer’.

All of which makes it dream comic book fodder, and an ideal chance for scientists to geek out. Just imagine the carnage in this fictional universe if vibranium suddenly popped up as a genuine element on the periodic table. It would nullify the power of Captain America’s shield. It would cripple the economy of an entire African state. And it would give smarmy billionaire Tony Stark a chance to fly around in his decidedly non-iron floaty-shooty-supersuit going ‘See! I told you vibranium could be synthesised!’

This kind of paradigm-shifting chance to mess with comic books comes only once in a generation. Discoverers, I implore you: let 113 or 115 be vibranium. The result would be hilarious.

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#NamethatElement - Vibranium, 9.3 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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