Boffins make heaviest ever element?

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A collaborative research team of Russian and America scientists may have created two new heavyweight elements. Provisionally named Ununpentium and Ununtrium, if confirmed, these will be the heaviest elements on official record, with 115 and 113 protons in the nuclei, respectively.

Scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia bombarded an Americium target with heavy Calcium atoms. Initial results suggested that an atom with 115 protons in its nucleus had been created. This existed for 90 milliseconds* before decaying into a smaller, but still massive element with 113 protons in its nucleus. This stayed around for 1.2 seconds, enough time for some interesting chemistry, according to a report in Nature**.

The scientific world is reacting cautiously to the news: in 2001 a scientist was found to have faked results indicating that he had created an even heavier element with an atomic number of 118. Since that incident, verification of any results has been an absolute priority.

The findings also hint that scientists are getting close to the predicted ‘Island of Stability'. This is a region in the periodic table where very heavy atoms are stable, because of the particular arrangement that the nuclear particles may take.

The heaviest element to occur in nature is Uranium, weighing in at 92 on the atomic number scale.

Heavier elements than that decay rapidly as the strong, attractive nuclear force is overcome by the repulsive, electrostatic force between protons. The heaviest officially-certified*** synthetic element, Darmstadtium, had 110 protons. Researchers have reported finding elements with 111, 112, 114 and 116 protons. These are yet to be officially confirmed.

However, a zone in which the protons could find a stable arrangement is predicted, and these ghostly sightings indicate that this could be getting close. In this region, elements may remain stable for a number of years. By contrast, the lives of ‘normal’ elements however, are of the order of the age of the universe.

The findings were originally reported in Physical Review . ®

*During which time it received several unsolicited emails, and sent its bank account details to someone in Nigeria

**And plenty of time for Jordan to have had a meaningful relationship with it. Details will be in her new book.

*** Certified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

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