New Element, Created In A Lab, To Be 117th In The Periodic Table

By Ben Wolford on May 2, 2014 2:59 PM EDT

This 394-feet-long tube accelerated calcium ions to produce element 117 in Germany. (Photo: Universitaet Mainz)
This 394-feet-long tube accelerated calcium ions to produce element 117 in Germany. (Photo: Universitaet Mainz)

The world has a new element. Well, it had a new element. The particle, likely to be the 117th addition to the Periodic Table, lasted only a fraction of a second before dissolving into smaller components.

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Scientists in Germany reported Thursday in Physical Review Letters that they'd artificially created element 117, the world's heaviest, and temporarily named it "ununsemptium." If chemistry's governing body accepts it officially to the Periodic Table, it will be granted a permanent name, and the world's chemistry classrooms will become outdated.

Element 117 was formed by slamming calcium and berkelium isotopes together in a nearly 400-feet-long particle accelerator in Darmstadt, Germany. "This is of paramount importance as even longer-lived isotopes are predicted to exist in a region of enhanced nuclear stability," said co-author Christoph Düllmann in a statement. He's referring to the so-called "island of stability," a theoretical atomic mass that some scientists believe will allow for more stable elements to exist. Synthetic elements are known for their lightning-fast decay.

"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 superheavy elements," said Horst Stöcker, scientific director at the lab that created it. Elements higher than the atomic number 104 are considered super heavy elements; this one weighs 40 percent more than an atom of lead.

It wasn't easy to create it, and the process of verifying its creation is even trickier. Scientists first had to create the berkelium isotope, which itself is not stable. This, though, was the "target" at which high-speed calcium ions were beamed. The new element broke down almost instantly, and the chemists only identified it by the elements created as it decayed. Ultimately the International Unions of Pure and Applied Physics and Chemistry has the last say on changes to the Periodic Table of the Elements. The organization may determine that more research is necessary to prove element 117's existence.

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