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Boffins brew up new element

Say hi to 118, aka ununoctium

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Russian and American scientists yesterday announced they'd "discovered" a new superheavy element - 118, aka ununoctium.

According to Reuters, teams at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, "bombarded californium with calcium ions" to create the element which has "only existed in three different atoms lasting a fraction of a second over months of experiments".

The boffins explained they found the first 118 atom in 2002, followed by another two in 2005. The atoms lived for a fleeting 0.9 milliseconds.

Livermore team member Nancy Stoyer pre-empted the inevitable "what's the point?" question with: "I think of this like any other journey to a new place. Why do you want to go to the moon? Why do you want to go to the top of Mount Everest? Finding it is something new, it is something interesting.

"Finding it experimentally helps the theorists understand what really works for their theory and gives us more things to look for."

The last naturally-occuring element (Rhenium, atomic number 75) was added to the periodic table in 1925. Since 1937, and the discovery of the first synthetic element Technetium (atomic number 43), the world has enjoyed a continual expansion of the family of elements. Notable new members have included Plutonium (atomic number 94, debut in 1941), hydrogen bomb test byproduct Einsteinium (atomic number 99, 1952) and the previous holder of the newest element title, Ununpentium (atomic number 115, 2004).

The discovery of ununoctium follows a 2002 claim to have pinpointed it from a team Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, which later proved to be false. The Livermore-Dubna coalition took no chances, as Livermore lead boffin Ken Moody explained: "We selected a completely different nuclear reaction, performed with completely different people in a different laboratory. Everything we do is checked and double checked.

"The data analysis is performed by both us and our Russian colleagues. We do everything that we can possibily do to both avoid the possibility of intentional fraud and of mistaken handling of the data."

The scientists say they're now trying to sniff out element 120. When they find it, we sincerely hope they'll go back to the old school practice of giving it a proper name: Regonium springs to mind... ®

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