Scientists first saw the element 117 at the Lawrence Berkley National Labs in 2010. Since then they have been waiting on confirmation of the discovery by other labs. A new paper reveals that a German team has finally had success: They’ve made two atoms of the superheavy element.
The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
Elements beyond atomic number 104 are referred to as super-heavy elements. These superheavy elements aren’t found in nature, they live only in the lab, and only exist for tiny periods of time when they are created.
Scientists think that if they make the elements big enough, some will be stable enough to survive for a relatively long amount of time. They can then be observed and their properties cataloged. These stable super-heavy elements could have untold practical uses, the researchers told LiveScience.
Creating Element 117
To start, a beam of super-fast-moving calcium ions (blue) were shot at a target made of Berkelium atoms (orange) for 153 days. These atoms don’t usually hit each other in a way that the two fuse together, they usually just fly past each other.
But once in a blue moon, the two elements collide in such a way that their nuclei became one — the superheavy element 117. Only six atoms of 117 were created in the first experiment. Only two were created in the latest confirmation experiment.
The collision forms the element, but it’s unstable and it falls apart pretty quickly. The element releases alpha particles (a type of radiation that contains two protons and two neutrons) and decays into the element 115 and then 113.
After decay, the element then splits into two smaller elements through nuclear fission.
“The discovery of element 117 is the culmination of a decade-long journey to expand the periodic table and write the next chapter in heavy element research,” Yuri Oganessian, of the Joint Institute For Nuclear Research, said in a 2010 press release for the original discovery of the element.
Because the discovery has finally been confirmed, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) needs to review the data, and accept the confirmation, then they will determine which institution will be able to propose a name. It is temporarily named ununseptium, according to LiveScience.