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Michael Banks: July 2010 Archives

By Michael Banks

On 3 June 2010 six people – Romain Charles, Alexei Sitev, Diego Urbina, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexei Sitev, Alexander Smoleevsky and Wang Yue – entered a capsule located at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow.

The crew was heading for a 520-day mission to Mars, but instead of getting ready for launch they were going nowhere. They are part of an experiment conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) to simulate a manned flight to the red planet.

The crew live and work in a mock-up spacecraft with limited food supplies and even a 20-minute delay in communication with the outside world (which is only possible via e-mail).

While ESA will be carefully studying how the participants respond to being locked away on the ground for more than 500 days, author Mary Roach has written a new book looking into the science of life in space.

Released on 2 August, Packing For Mars attempts to answer some of those questions you always wanted to know such as what happens when you can’t walk for a year or what happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk?

I haven’t read the book yet, but if it is anything like the short video posted yesterday by the publishers to promote the book then it will make for an hilarious read.

One only hopes that the ESA participants have better success than the ones in the video; at least they will be able to wash themselves.

By Michael Banks

Last year, we asked readers to submit their best names for element 112, which was discovered in 1996 by Sigurd Hofmann and his group at the Centre for Heavy Ion Research (GSI) in Darmstadt, Germany.

The responses ranged from Unobtanium, Collossium and Planckium to Fibonaccium (which was my favourite).

Now, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which develops standards for naming new elements and compounds, may be looking for a name for element 114 after researchers at GSI observed 13 atoms of Ununquadium.

Ununquadium was first synthesized in 1999 when Sergey Dimitriev and his team at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, claimed to have produced a handful of atoms.

IUPAC states that the production of any new element must be independently verified at another lab first before it can be officially recognized. That happened at the GSI lab last month as well as at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US, which produced two atoms of element 114 in September last year.

IUPAC has not yet officially recognized the element, but when it does it will invite the team in Dubna to submit a name. IUPAC will then publish the name on its website, giving scientists and the public six months to scrutinize and comment on it.

After all the suggestions Hofmann received last year for element 112 he submitted Copernicium, in honour of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. The IUPAC then approved the name and gave it the symbol Cn.

So, readers, what are your suggestions for element 114?