4 New Elements Are Cleared For The Periodic Table
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, IUPAC, has announced final confirmation of 4 new chemical elements which will complete the 7th row or period of the periodic table.
These elements have been discovered the past dozen years or so, but now they have finally been verified and the only hurdle remaining is to name these little buggers. In the meantime, we still need a way to refer to them and this is what they have been and will be called until then:
- Ununtrium 113
- Ununpentium 115
- Ununoctium 118
The discovery (or synthesis) of 113 was made by Japan’s premiere research institute, RIKEN. This was a milestone since it was the first element found by scientists in Asia. All the others were made by teams of Russian and American scientists. These numbers you see above, 113, 115 etc, are the atomic numbers of the element, the number of protons in the nucleus. These are all called superheavy elements because they have at least 104 protons and are not found in nature
Discovering these was no easy task at this level of maturity of the periodic table. You’re not going to find them hanging out in some obscure location or metal waiting to be found. They are each made by hurling particles at each other at relativistic speeds. On the rarest of occasions, they fuse into a new superheavy particle, but they decay in an instant into less massive offspring particles. Researchers have to slog through the data recordings of these collisions and get supremely lucky and find that one collision in many billions of collisions. It doesn’t end there however. They also need positively identify the offspring particles and grandchildren particles to support the chain of evidence that they can only have been produced by this new element.
The IUPAC then needs to go through these painstakingly detailed findings and verify that your logic chain makes sense and you really found a brand new element. This is what they recently did. Yayyy!!
So what’s next? Well, as I said, they need official names which are expected sometime this year. You can’t just give them a weird arbitrary name like Kylo Ren either. According to international guidelines, new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.
The proposed names and their new symbols will then be vetted by the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC to make sure they’re consistent, to identify possible prior historic use, to make sure they’re translatable into other languages, etc. I guess they want to make sure the new name doesn’t mean something like ‘boner’ in Swahili.
They will then be presented for public review for five months…I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t think they’d care if no one liked it. Finally, a decision is made by the highest body of IUPAC, ominously called “The Council”. Then, the new official Periodic table of elements can finally be put in all the textbooks.
So that was fun, but for me, the super-heavy elephant in the room for this entire topic is the so-called island of stability.
You will never see these new superheavy elements or be able to actually hold some in your hands. They last for fleeting thousandths and millionths of a second. All super-heavies evaporate in an eye-blink or far less. This prompted scientists to give this phenomenon a great name called the Sea of Instability. Since the 50s though, it’s been theorized that protons and neutrons form shells in the nucleus just like electrons form shells around the nucleus. The number of protons required to fill all the shells to capacity is referred to as the magic number of protons because it should offer enhanced stability and therefore survive far longer. If the neutron shells are filled as well it’s called doubly magic. These magic numbers of protons and neutrons then could provide one or more Islands of Stability that rise out of the Seas of Instability producing long-lived elements on the order of minutes, days, or possibly millions of years. The properties of these elements could then actually be tested. If they are stable enough we could even make objects out of this….let’s call it meta-matter…that would likely seem magical to us; giving those magic numbers probably more meaning than was initially intended.
Image Credit: https://web-docs.gsi.de/~wolle/TELEKOLLEG/KERN/LECTURE/Wollersheim/hjw/hjw-shell-model.jpg