New words are added to the dictionary all the time, although some words get there faster than others. Scientific and technological words often have a fairly easy and straighforward path, and today’s word is no exception. Copernicium was added to the Merriam Webster this week, a scant (in etymological terms an absolute blink) two and a half years after the name was proposed and less than a year after the name was approved. In 1996, researchers Sigurd Hofmann and Victor Ninov along with several colleagues bombarded a nucleus of Lead 208 with Zinc 70 in a heavy ion accelator creating a new element with the atomic weight of 112. Only a single atom was created and this atom had a half life of approximately 30 seconds, but an element was discovered. In the periodic table of the elements, it is a d-block element, which belongs to transactinide elements. To date, only around 75 atoms of Copernicium (abbreviation Cn) have been made.
In July of 2009, the team from the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung, Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research near Darmstadt, Germany who created the first atom proposed the name Copernicium after Nicolaus Copernicus. On 19 February 2010, the 537th anniversary of Copernicus' birth, the name was officially accepted and was finally approved by the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) on November 4, 2011.
Image of Nicolaus Copernicus in the public domain.
Image of the atomic structure of Copernicium by Pumbaa80 and Greg Robertson, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.