A group of scientists and reserchers has just published a paper confirming the existence of element number 117 – ununseptium – the heaviest element ever. The Germans claim that a single atom of the new substance outweighing an atom of lead by 40 percent.
Seventy-two scientists and engineers from all over the world worked together to confirm 117’s existence. The metal was first reported by a team of Russian and American scientists four years ago. Now it’s officially confirmed, and it took a whole lot of work to get there.
“Superheavy elements, those beyond atomic number 104 on the periodic table, aren’t observed in nature. They can only be created by blasting two different types of nuclei at each other in a particle accelerator, and hoping that a few of them fuse together. In the case of ununseptium, that meant aiming a beam of calcium 48 ions at a chunk of berkelium 249,” Gizmodo explains.
“Even the ingredients in this heavy metal recipe are challenging: the 13-milligram berkelium 249 sample used in the study took 18 months to synthesize, and with a half-life of only 330 days, once the sample was created the race was on,” the blog adds.
For years, scientists have been creating heavier and heavier elements in attempt to disover how large atoms can be, said Christoph Düllmann, a professor at the Institute for Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
“There are predictions that super-heavy elements should exist which are very long-lived,” Düllmann told Live Science. “It is interesting to find out if half-lives become long again for very heavy elements, especially if very neutron-rich species are made.”
Düllmann and his colleagues believe that their findings, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, are a step in the right direction.
“The successful experiments on element 117 are an important step on the path to the production and detection of elements situated on the ‘island of stability’ of super-heavy elements,” Horst Stöcker, scientific director at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, said in a statement.
“This is an important scientific result and a compelling example of international cooperation in science, advancing superheavy element research by leveraging the special capabilities of national laboratories in Germany and the US,” agreed Oak Ridge National Laboratory director Thom Mason in a statement.
There are some politician who may describe the results of the research as pie-in-the-sky thinking that’s a waste of both time and money.
However, a hundred years ago, as The Register writes, “it was just this kind of pure research into atomic structures that where thought a closed book at the time which led to the creation of electronics, nuclear power, and the tunnel magnetoresistance used in your computer’s hard drive.”
The next stage before the new element is added to school textbooks is an examination of the data from the two experiments by the International Unions of Pure and Applied Physics and Chemistry.
In ase its members agree that the data is valid and acurate without further experimentation then the discoverers will get a chance to think up a new name for their finding.