No need to update science textbooks yet

Students holding up cards with symbols from the periodic table during a lecture at the Singapore Science Centre on July 30, 2013.
Students holding up cards with symbols from the periodic table during a lecture at the Singapore Science Centre on July 30, 2013.PHOTO: ST FILE

New additions to periodic table do not critically affect curriculum: MOE

Science textbooks in Singapore will not be updated immediately to reflect the four latest additions to the periodic table.

This is because the new elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 do not "critically affect" the concepts taught in the science curriculum, the Education Ministry said on Thursday.

But an MOE spokesman said the science curriculum is kept updated through regular reviews.

She added that MOE will continue to monitor developments at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) on the official names of the new elements - which currently have temporary names - before briefing teachers and updating its resources.


The periodic table is a key part of chemistry lessons in schools.

Scientists in Singapore said they, too, did not see an urgent need to amend textbooks, as science is constantly evolving.

The United States-based IUPAC, the global authority on chemistry, last month said the table's seventh row was now complete with the latest additions. The four new elements were discovered by scientists in Japan, Russia and the US, and will be named by the scientific teams which discovered them.

For now, they are being called ununtrium (Uut or 113), ununpentium (Uup or 115), ununseptium (Uus or 117), and ununoctium (Uuo or 118).

This is the first time that the table has been updated since 2011, when elements 114 and 116 were added.

Not found in nature, the new elements are synthetic and are highly unstable - existing for less than a second before breaking down into other elements.

Associate Professor Robin Chi, from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said the discovery of the new elements does not change much of the chemistry or physics principles known to date.

But it "opens new areas in atomic physics, nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry and beyond", and should become part of students' common knowledge, he said.

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, chief executive of the Singapore Science Centre, said the more important thing is for teachers to inculcate in their students that "the more we know, the more we do not know".

The idea, he added, is to "spur interest in understanding how the periodic table has come about" rather than to believe "the textbook says so, therefore the exam answer should be this".

National Junior College chemistry teacher Harman Johll said: "There is no impact on the material science associated with daily life; students should know this. But it goes beyond filling gaps in the periodic table - it represents a step forward in illuminating gaps in our understanding of the sub-atomic world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'No need to update science textbooks yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe