Zinc + Lead = New, Superheavy Addition to the Periodic Table

By Allison Bond | June 12, 2009 8:08 am

periodic tableResearchers in Germany produced element 112 in 1996, and now that it has been recognized by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry, it will be the newest addition to the periodic table of the elements. It’s currently known as ununbium, Latin for ‘one-one-two,’ but it will be given an official name before it’s added to the chart.

The new element is one of only 22 elements that are man-made, and it’s 277 times heavier than hydrogen, making it the weightiest element on the periodic table. To make it, scientists at Germany’s Centre for Heavy Ion Research fused the the nuclei of zinc and lead. The atomic number 112 refers to the sum of the atomic numbers of zinc, which has 30, and lead, which has 82. Atomic numbers denote how many protons are found in the atom’s nucleus [Reuters]. Creating new elements isn’t just a why-not-do-it challenge: It has also helped researchers to understand how nuclear power plants and atomic bombs function [Reuters].

The same team that discovered the new element also discovered the elements with atomic numbers 107 through 111, which have already been named. To produce the element the scientists accelerated charged zinc atoms … with the help of a 120 metre long particle accelerator and ‘fired’ them onto a lead target [Daily Mail]. The two nuclei merged, forming the new element. Element 112 is very unstable–it decays milliseconds after it forms–and only four atoms of it have ever been observed. Other scientists had a difficult time re-creating 112 and therefore independently verifying its existence, which produced the lag time between the initial discovery and its acceptance onto the periodic table.

The last naturally occurring element was uncovered in 1925; Now, discovering new elements has become something of a friendly competition between scientists in Germany, the United States, Japan, and Russia. In 2006, the Russian scientists claimed the discovery of element 118. It was made by bombarding a californium target with a beam of calcium ions [BBC]. But the German team is hoping to one-up them, says team leader Sigurd Hofmann: “We tried the same experiment to get to element 120. We’ve not seen it yet, but we believe the element exists and, with a long enough beam time, it could be produced…. It’s certainly a race, and it’s nice to be first” [BBC].

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Image: flickr / Florian

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • QUASAR

    *surprized face*

  • YouRang

    Every time I hear about fusing atoms into a new element, I think of the goose that laid the golden egg and the farmer who wanted to know how to hatch geese (the gold kept the egg from hatching). Turns out the goose was fusing four particular isotopes of Oxygen into Gold. (Hmm it must have been 10?) The solutio was to put the goose into an atmosphere free of that particular isotope. (Got to mention, gold and oxygen have the same amount of energy per nucleon, so the goose didn’t go nuclear.)

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    I predict that we will probably find as many heavy elements as we care to look for.

    Also, we’ll probably find a way to stabilize these higher-nuclei atomic compounds – we just need to figure out the right ratio of neutrons and what-not to produce a stable isotope vs. unstable one (like uranium-235 vs 238) – but that technology is not currently in our hands, though we’ve got to be getting close.

  • mwl

    Nick, you suggest stabilizing superheavy elements with
    an appropriate number of neutrons. How about bathing
    them in some light, reactive element that would stick all
    over them, like a shell, to hold them together? Maybe it
    could work if that element’s atoms also bonded to each-
    other, as a spherical lattice. Carbon?

  • Zoltan

    The sum of the atomic weights of Zink-65.38 and Lead-207.20 gives 272.58. The atomic weight of Element 112 is 277. OK, the first two are measurements and 277 is an assumption but shall I pose my question?

  • chemman

    All I can say is WOW!! I have to say we’ve got some great suggestions out there on how to solve the problems of some of the smartest people in the world.

  • A

    @6- hahaha

  • shaking head

    hahahahaha

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