Thanks to recent discoveries, the periodic table is now a little more complete.

The periodic table of elements is seen by millions of people every single day.

It's an iconic image and the tried-and-tested map of chemistry.


Also available in placemat, coffee mug, and shower curtain. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It's in basically every science classroom in the world along with that skeleton that your teacher named Boney, Skinny, Jerry, or whatever.

"Class, we have a new student today. His name is Jimmy McRib." Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images.

What you may not know is that the periodic table is incomplete.

Well, sort of. There's no real limit to the amount of chemical elements there can be. Elements are discovered and identified by the amount of protons in their nuclei. For example, hydrogen: one proton in its nucleus. Lithium: three protons in its nucleus. Iridium: 77 protons in its nucleus, and so on.

So far, we've been able to observe and name over 100 elements and organize them by that atomic number into the periodic table — with only a few blank spots in the seventh row.

113, 115, 117, and 118 (in grey) were left unidentified until now. 114 and 116 were added in 2011.

On Dec. 30, 2015, scientists from around the world could officially, finally, fill in those blank spots.

Elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 were officially discovered and assigned by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), a U.S.-based agency that oversees global chemical nomenclature, terminology, and measurement.

The seventh-row "superheavy" elements are the first to be added to the periodic table since 114 and 116 back in 2011.

Until now, they remained theoretical and were given placeholder names like 117's "ununseptium," which means "one-one-seven" in Latin.

The new elements can be discovered in particle accelerators similar to the famous Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.

There's little you can do with these superheavy elements, as they don't occur in nature and are incredibly unstable, decaying faster than you can even think about blinking.

However, a popular theory among scientists is that the more we learn about superheavy elements, the closer we get to a so-called "island of stability" wherein large atoms don't immediately decay and can possibly become useful.

In the coming months, the four new elements will receive official names and instantly render every chemistry textbook out of date.

Elements 115, 117, and 118 were credited to and will be named by teams of Russian and American scientists.

Element 113, however, is its own underdog story.

In 2003, Japanese scientists at RIKEN began "bombarding a thin layer of bismuth with zinc ions traveling at about 10% the speed of light," you know, like you do.

The result of that experiment was a single, fleeting glimpse of an element with an atomic number of 113. They kept at it, and eventually created 113 several more times.

While it only lasted less than a thousandth of a second, it was enough for the IUPAC to give Japan its first naming rights to an element.

Kosuke Morita, the proud dad of element 113. Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images.

According to Kosuke Morita, Japan's RIKEN team leader, the honor of naming an element is "of greater value than an Olympic gold medal" for scientists.

Naming an element isn't like naming a bridge. When you name an element, you're putting your stamp on a fundamental and permanent building block of the universe. You've cemented your place in history.

I just hope Morita and his team come up with a better name for 113 than your science teacher did for that skeleton.

Heroes

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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