Heavy metal - Motörhead fans petition for ′Lemmium′ element | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 07.01.2016
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Heavy metal - Motörhead fans petition for 'Lemmium' element

Mention heavy metal, and it won't take long for the band Motörhead to enter the conversation. Fans of the band's recently deceased lead singer now want to name a chemical element after him.

"Everything Louder than Everyone Else" - that's Motörhead. And it was also Lemmy Kilmister, who passed away December 26, 2015 at the age of 70 in Los Angeles, just two days after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

For a moment, the music world both grieved and celebrated the life of the legendary British rock singer. His band, Motörhead, posted to its Facebook page: "We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few."

Other musicians took to Twitter:

And it did almost seem like a higher power had a hand in it when, roughly a week after his death, the rule-makers of world's most famous scientific chart announced they would be adding new "heavy metals" to the periodic table of elements.

For the first time in four years, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has approved new elements. The heavy metals with atomic numbers of 115, 117 and 118 were discovered by Russian and US scientists. Another element with an atomic number of 113 is attributed to Japanese researchers.

New names

Previously the four heavy metals had placeholder names: Ununtrium (113, Uut), Ununpentium (115, Uup), Ununseptium (117, Uus) and Ununoctium (118, Uuo).

The researchers, per tradition, have the right to submit proposals for the new names and symbols of the elements. IUPAC will then review those submissions and reach a decision in the coming months.

On its website, the IUPAC clarifies the nomenclature rules. One possibility, for example, is a reference to well-known scientists or researchers (such as Einsteinium), to places (Darmstadtium, from the western German city of Darmstadt) or to mythological terms.

The only hard-and-fast "rule" is that the elements must end in either "-ium," "-ine" or "-on" - with the endings themselves depending on which periodic group the element belongs to (metals, rare earths, gases, etc.).

Enter "Lemmium"?

This is where Motörhead fans saw their chance, creating a petition in the hopes of earning Lemmy a memorial - through a chemical heavy metal named "Lemmium."

The petition on the website Change.org reads:

"Lemmy was a force of nature and the very essence of heavy metal. We believe it is fitting that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry recommend that one of the four new discovered Heavy Metals in the Periodic table is named Lemmium."

As of Thursday, roughly 85,000 supporters had signed the petition.

Perhaps these well-meaning efforts should be taken with a grain of sodium-chloride, though, since Lemmy himself was strongly of the opinion that Motörhead was not a heavy metal band.

In 2010, he was quoted in the UK newspaper The Independent as follows:

"We were not heavy metal," he snaps. "We were a rock'n'roll band. Still are. Everyone always describes us as heavy metal even when I tell them otherwise. Why won't people listen?"

Some are. Not all his fans are on board with the petition's aims, with at least one abstainer writing he might have signed on if the element in question had been a noble gas.

As for which names will ultimately be assigned to the four new elements… the process will take months. The element with an atomic weight of 113, for example, was 12 years ago proposed to be "Japonium." But the final decision is in IUPAC's hands.

In the meantime, fans can still enjoy a tribute of sorts on Saturday, January 9, when Lemmy is laid to rest. The band, fearing limited space at the funeral, has announced the event will be livestreamed:

"So wherever you are, PLEASE get together and watch the service with fellow Motörheadbangers and friends. GO to your favorite bar, or your favorite club, make sure they have access to an internet connection and toast along with us. Or simply invite your pals around and celebrate Lemm's life at home."

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