We Need to Name an Actual Heavy Metal After Lemmy. But Can We? [UPDATE]

Late last month, the metal world was saddened by the death of Lemmy Kilmister, the iconic frontman of Motorhead, from a very aggressive form of cancer. It was two days from diagnosis to death. The memorials continue, including one this Saturday at the Rainbow, Lemmy’s favourite Sunset Strip hangout–which, by the way will be streamed to the world. Plenty of Jack Daniels will be consumed in a series of fitting rituals.

How else should Lemmy be memorialized? This is where we turn to the world of physics and chemistry.

It’s recently been confirmed that scientists have discovered four new elements which means some major changes to the seventh row of the periodic table. Using particle accelerators, existing elements were bombarded with subatomic particles in hopes of jamming more protons and neutrons into a nucleus thereby creating a brand new element.  The results of these experiments were elements 113, 115, 117 and 118. None of these synthetic elements last very long–they’re so unstable that they wink out of existence in a second or less–but their creation helps scientists understand more about the fundamental structure and behaviour of the building blocks of nature.


Now back to Lemmy.  Scientific nomenclature tradition says that the discoverers of new elements get to give them names. At the moment, they have placeholder designations: ununtrium (Uut, 113), ununpentium (Uup, 115), ununspetium (Uus, 117) and ununoctium (Uuo, 118). What to call these new things?

There’s now a petition asking that one of these new elements be named after Lemmy. (“Lemmium” has a nice ring to it.) If they get their required 25,000 names, the petition will be presented to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

There is, however, a problem. Two of them, in fact.

When a new element is discovered, its name must come from a mythological concept, a mineral, a place/country/property or a scientist. For example, the element with the atomic number 99 is called Einsteinium after Albert Einstein. Element 101 is named after Dmitri Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table. “Musician” can’t be a consideration.

There is a loophole, however. Lemmy apparently already has a star named after him. If one of these elements were to be named after the star, then it’s a backdoor way to honouring Lemmy.

The second is even more fundamental. The petition was inspired by the idea that an actual heavy metal be named after Lemmy. And with atomic weights between 113 and 118, these new elements are the heaviest yet discovered. However, if we look at the periodic table, you’ll see that the new elements occupy space on the right-hand side. That’s the area of the table reserved for non-metals. Actual metal elements are grouped on the left side. Reading deeper into the period table, we see that Number 117 is a halogen while Number 118 is a noble gas. There are therefore not heavy metals.

Well, what about the others? Element 113 and 115 are grouped on either side of the previously-discovered flerovium (atomic weight: 114), which is under very specific chemical and reactive circumstances may behave somewhat like a metal–it’s related to lead–but not enough to make it a real metal. So where does that leave Elements 113 and 115? Number 113 appears to be distantly related to aluminum while but is predicted to show transition metal properties. Element 115 is a post-transition element at best.

In other words, 113, 115, 117 and 118 are not heavy metals in the way Lemmy fans want them to be.

I still like the idea, though. Could the IUPAC make an exception?

(NOTE TO CHEMISTS/PHYSICISTS: And did I get my science right?)





Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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