By Crystal Chan, Clarion Staff
When you hear the word science, you’ll most likely think of the periodic table or the elements on it such as the things we breathe and the Titanic. Then you remember that the last row had a few spaces left open along with some elements that you don’t know the name of. Now, that last row is filled!!! Scientists have found four new elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117, and 118. Last year on December 30, the International Unions Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced that claims for finding all four elements have been accepted.
These elements, classified as “superheavy” for having more than 104 protons, were made from nuclear fusion. A heavy-ion accelerator is needed to shoot one nucleus, usually Calcium-48 (Ca-48) at another heavier nucleus. However, the two nuclei must change their shape to form one compact nucleus, and this rarely happens, as few as one in a million collisions. Even with a lucky collision, this nucleus will immediately decay by fission, making it harder to detect the new elements. “A particular difficulty in establishing these new elements is that they decay into hitherto unknown isotopes of slightly lighter elements that also need to be unequivocally identified,” said Paul Karol, chair of the IUPAC Joint Working Party with International Unions Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). The only way to detect the formation of the element is by measuring the radiation and the nuclides produced as they decay.
Element 113, discovered by Kosuke Morita’s team in Japan, only exists for less than a thousandth of a second. The team actually claimed to have found the element in 2004, but due to its rapid decay, more evidence was needed to prove its existence. Elements 115, 117, and 118 were formed from a collaboration of institutions: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the US with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research of Russia. For now, temporary names have been placed in the designated spots of the elements. Each of the teams have been asked to submit official names for the discovered elements. These official names can be inspired by a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property, or a scientist. “The symbol is particularly important,” says Lynn Soby, executive director of IUPAC. “They have to go through all the archives to check if it has ever been used before. It has to be unique.” This process could take about four to six months, but hopefully, we can see these new elements in our science textbooks soon.
Now, you must be wondering, “Why are scientists making something that doesn’t even last for a second? What good is it?” The discovery of these new elements could help scientists create a better model of the atomic nucleus and test their understanding of atomic relativistic effects. Also, our knowledge of the complex interactions of quantum systems will increase as we make more elements. In a way, scientists are testing the limits of matter and nature by making these new elements. These superheavy elements, despite decaying fast, could possibly be found in nature. For example, plutonium was made in a laboratory, and it was soon discovered with uranium ore deposits. Supernovae, explosions of massive stars could make these elements as well.
Now, scientists have moved their goal to the start of the 8th row, elements 119 and 120. They hope to reach “the island of stability,” which may exist from element 120 to element 126. These elements will exist for a longer period of time, allowing scientists to study its chemistry. “There are a couple of laboratories that have already taken shots at making elements 119 and 120 but with no evidence yet of success,” Karol said. “The eighth period should be very interesting because relativistic effects on electrons become significant and difficult to pinpoint. It is in the electron behavior, perhaps better called electron psychology, that the chemical behavior is embodied.” Ca-48, which was used to form these new elements, has too few protons to make elements 119 and 120. S
cientists must find a new, heavier projectile nucleus to use. The German superheavy element research group has travelled to the Australian National University to study this problem by measuring the fission characteristics for the nuclear reactions forming element 120. Once again, the discovering of new elements could take a long time, as seen with element 113. We wish the best of luck to all in the race to start the 8th row of the periodic table!