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Admittedly, if you’re not a chemist or physicist, you may find this post as boring as dirt. (Please forgive the simile, microbiologists. I know dirt is actually fascinating.) Then again, it’s not everyday a new element is added to the periodic table.

The latest addition, number 112, was discovered on February, 9th, 1996 at 10:37 PM by a team under Professor Sigurd Hofmann at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung (Center for Heavy Ion Research) in Darmstadt, Germany, who confirmed its existence by observing a characteristic “decay chain” of radioisotopes (illustrated above) that could only have originated with element 112.

Just a couple weeks ago, on February 19, that discovery was officially confirmed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), who accepted the GSI team’s recommendation of the name “Copernicium” in honor, naturally, of Nicolaus Copernicus, whom most will recall as the first scientist to stand up and declare that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way ’round. The new two-letter symbol is “Cn.”

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.



  1. dasmoo says:

    This is an absolute travesty. If they’re going to name an element after the “first scientist to stand up and declare that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way ’round” then it should be called *Aristarchusium*.

    1. rahere says:

      To expand on the previous, Copernicus acknowledged in his first publication that he cribbed from a Cardinal, Nicholas of Kues, nicknamed “Cusanus”, who observed that orbits are elliptical in the mid fifteenth century. The ellipticality of orbits meant the orbitary shells could not be concentric, and that the precession of certain objects could then be accounted for by the earth not being at the centre of the orbits. An initial stab at this had been made at the start of the fifteenth century by Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly, Kues’ mentor, in his work on the Alfonsine Tables, see Laura Smoller’s work on the subject. Copernicus certainly worked from them.
      Copernicus also credits Aristarchus in his draft of the Six Books, but removed it from the published edition: perhaps he was unconfortable with the indirect reference through Archimedes’ Psammites. The question then arises what the influences on Alfonso’s Toledo workers were. Certainly, the work of Gerard of Cremona on the Arabic libraries included works of Archimedes, published shortly before the compiklation of the tables, and it may perhaps be concluded that these were part of the inspiration.

    2. rahere says:

      There is a larger question at stake here. d’Ailly’s research also inspired the 1560s Brussels research which fired up van Helmont. We therefore have a series of hard attributions which deny the Royal Society’s masonic version of the roots of science in Paraceslsus and Albertus Magnus. Indeed, van Helmont’s empiricism was provoked by his absolute rejection of Paracelsus, and there is nothing to trace of it in modern science. The attribution to Albertus is actually to an early sixteenth-century forgery which may have had some influence in the 1560s workings, rather to the historical Bishop of Cologne, who, for all that he presided over a more than somewhat licentious see, was none the less personally fairly orthodox.
      The US will perhaps know d’Ailly for something more significant in their history: he was the chief inspiration of Christopher Columbus in setting out to prove the earth is round.

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