You may seen in the media that the existence of four new chemical elements has been verified. They are all highly unstable, they only exist for fractions of a second before decaying into other elements. In fact they are so unstable that scientists can only create one atom of them at a time. But they are all genuine elements , as genuine and distinct as more common ones like iron, or copper, or tungsten.
At the moment they have temporary names – ununtrium, ununpentium , ununseptium ,and ununoctium. They will eventually be given permanent names, most likely after a place, a country or a scientist. In the past , for example “Einsteinium” was named after Albert Einstein.
Now, there is a serious case for naming one of these new elements “Rayleighium”. Not after Rayleigh, but after Lord Rayleigh the physicist. You may not have heard of him, but he was a world-class scientist, the Stephen Hawking of his day.
Back in the 1800s a certain Lady Charlotte Strutt married into an Essex family,was raised to the peerage and although she didn’t live in the town chose the pleasant-sounding title of Baroness Rayleigh.Her grandson William eventually became Lord Rayleigh and a very important physicist : –
- He explained one of the oldest questions that anyone asks – why is the sky blue? The answer is Rayleigh scattering.
- Together with William Ramsay , he discovered an element himself – Argon. Having both their names beginning with “Ra” is a coincidence…
- He proposed the main theory – the duplex theory – as to how humans can locate where a sound is coming from.
- He predicted the existence of Rayleigh Waves – waves that travel through solids close to the surface. These crop in all sorts of situations. Rayleigh Waves are caused by earthquakes , are used in non-destructive testing of materials , and may even be used by elephants for communicating.
- He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1904, and has a crater on the moon, a crater on Mars and an asteroid named after him.
It would certainly put Rayleigh on the map if one of these elements was named Rayleighium! The man deserves it. Or Raylium, if that was easier to spell and honoured Ramsay as well.