Two New Elements Join the Periodic Table

By Veronique Greenwood | June 4, 2011 8:30 am

periodic
116 and 114 can now officially be filled in.

What’s the News: On Wednesday, two new elements were officially welcomed to the periodic table.

The newcomers are elements 114 and 116, and they’ve just passed a three-year deliberation by the Joint Working Party on Discovery of Elements, a team of chemists and other scientists who sort through the evidence behind claims of newly discovered elements. These two don’t have official names yet, and for now they are going by the placeholders ununquadium and ununhexium, which refer to the number of protons in their nuclei.

How the Heck:

  • Discovering elements these days means smashing nuclei together at incredible speed and waiting to see what the shattered remnants reassemble themselves into.
  • The team that discovered 114 and 116 has been putting together a case for their discovery since 2004, when collaborating groups at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California started ramming calcium nuclei (20 protons) into curium nuclei (96 protons) to see what would happen (answer: element 116). 116 decayed almost immediately into two protons and 114, which they also made from scratch by replacing curium with plutonium, which has 94 protons.

What’s the Context:

  • The last element officially added to the table was element 112, copernicium, in 2010, after a series of experiments beginning in 1996 demonstrated its existence.
  • Elements 113 and 115 are still unaccounted for (the numbers stand for the number of protons in the nucleus, not order of discovery, so there’s nothing particularly odd about this). Researchers have submitted reports on these elusive elements, but the committee decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to declare them found.

The Future Holds:

  • Gone are the days when discovering an element meant refining loads of ore, seeing what cool new properties it might have, and going forth and creating glow-in-the-dark watch hands. These elements exist for less than a second before decomposing into lighter elements, and for that reason scientists know very little about what they are like.
  • But their discovery means that we are getting closer to a place physicists call the “island of stability,” a kind of legendary paradise in the periodic table where elements suddenly become stable again. Nuclear physicists suspect this might happen once we reach 120 or 126. And who knows what properties those wonder materials will have? Only further work will get us closer to knowing.
  • The new elements’ discoverers will get to pick permanent names for 114 and 116. And they can be just about anything the researchers want—”as long as it’s not something really weird,” says the Joint Working Party head  (via New Scientist)

(via New Scientist)

Image credit: mattfred/flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • Jon Deane

    If these have only just been found now, why have they been on every periodic table for the last 10 years?

  • Jay Fox

    I’m confused. These two are the latest of what I call “pseudo-elements.” If they only exist just long enough to detect them, what good are they? Are they for real, or just a transitory step on the way to actually becoming something real? You can’t mill them, drill them, make them into something useful, can you?
    There may well be an “island of stability,” and on it we may actually find a new element. Something tangible that we can manipulate. Until then, these ghostly things that evaporate as soon as they’re made should be called something else.

  • Tetsuo

    Is any of these the elements what Tony Stark created to substitute Palladium in Iron Man 2? :D

  • janaki

    what are those elements.

  • janaki

    what are those elements

  • Grant

    The elements discovered here may not be of immediate material value but they can tell us a great deal about nuclear physics. Two Pu atoms smashed together are what makes bombs work. Pu and Ca together create an element that creates other exciting byproducts and so-on. it’s not useful right here and now but we can learn huge amounts and we can have better ways of creating “real” elements not to mention the metaphysical implications of elements all the sudden becoming stable. Any discoveries in nuclear chemistry can validate or refute multiple metaphysical theories. I’ll probably get flamed for this but i hope someone has made it this far and will have some patience for science to happen.

  • Colin

    2. Jay Fox Says:
    June 4th, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Until then, these ghostly things that evaporate as soon as they’re made should be called something else.

    In science you can’t just arbitrarily define something as something different because you don’t like it. An element is defined as a pure substance containing one type of atom. Atoms consist of distinct nuclei, often (but not always)with an electron shell. Nothing in there defines the stability as a factor.

    Also, how fleetingly they exist in human terms is not a factor to the universe. Tritium (Hydrogen isotope) has a halflife of 12 years. Radon a halflife of 3 days. On geologic or astronomic timescales, that is just as fleeting as ununhexium.

  • RzITex

    While it may only last for a couple of ms(??), probably one of the most important aspect is that it shows the element can be created. And, because of that, we may have a chance of going higher and getting to the Island of Stability. They have theories of what combination of proton vs neutrons will live on the island. If we could create the super heavies that live there, there could be uses, perceptually ones that scientists believe could live for a long time. Who knows, maybe someday we will get to the point where Jumbonium might exist. :)
    Again, fiction for now

  • Jim

    I’m still waiting for my Unobtanium! Chop chop people!

  • Phillip E

    Everyone here is questioning the significance of this. The significance is not that elements can be created, because we have known that elements can be created for years (people have been involved in alchemy for last 30-40 years), nor is it that it isn’t “useful” as Jon questioned.

    These elements, for one, are not created. They existed, they have always existed in nature. The point for scientists was to recreate them in the lab. No one guessed at 116, it was a known element that escaped scientists grasp until recently, much like the concept of abiogensis escaped biologists even though they knew it had to be true for the theory of evolution to hold strong merit.

    The Island of Stability is one of those theories that survives for some reason. It holds absolutely no merit, because for these elements to survive for more than a couple ms would involve conditions much different that obtainable in nature.

    These elements are not psuedo, and in fact have potential beyond any existing/experimented element. Because of there already short life span and natural radioactive unstable-ness, they have an energy potential greater than Uranium. If these elements could be more sustainable then fission could be possible.

    Unobtainium would be pretty awesome.

  • Steve

    Element 115, or Ununpentium, is the one that sci-fi/ufo enthusiasts claim is used to power captured UFO’s at area 51. Supposedly produces artificial gravity when bombarded by neutrons.

  • Chris

    I’m still waiting for them to get to Element 137 (Feynmanium). Look it up, very interesting.

  • Dan

    Quote: These two are the latest of what I call “pseudo-elements.” If they only exist just long enough to detect them, what good are they? Are they for real, or just a transitory step on the way to actually becoming something real? You can’t mill them, drill them, make them into something useful, can you?

    Typical short-sighted human. Just because there are not practical applications of these elements today, does not mean there won’t be extremely important applications in the future. Perhaps during those crucial fraction of a second, these elements enable technology to perform cold fusion or warp space (artificial gravity, flt travel). Just because we don’t have immediate applications for knowledge, does not mean we shouldn’t seek it.

    Your words remind me of a bit of history. After discovering the basic principle of electromagnetic induction in 1831, Michael Faraday was asked by a skeptical politician what good might come of electricity. “Sir, I do not know what it is good for,” Faraday replied. “But of one thing I am quite certain — someday you will tax it.”

  • http://www.pharmapplicants.com pharmacy student

    Will these elements ever have any practical applications?

  • Johnonymous

    “You can’t mill them, drill them, make them into something useful, can you?”

    Not every achievement is measured by its commercial value.

  • Declan

    Their first application will undoubtedly be military. They’ll make nuclear war heads fly straighter and explode more violently…

    That’s about the only way any research gets pushed forward anymore these days…if it can be used to kill a lot of people.

  • Bruno Domingues

    These are the steps of science.

    Commercial applications for them may not even be possible, but having succeeded in creating them in the lab and being able to measure their existence is in itself a mighty reward for the endeavor. It is a step, another step, in our journey of knowledge.

    Science is all about the ride, not the destination. Now that we know that these elements can exist, we must account for them in our observations. If they are created here, in our “small” particle accelerators, they are created also in the universe, in the death throes of stars, in the collisions of cosmic rays, maybe even in intergalactic space, the realm of the nucleus and nucleons. Maybe those big stable nucleus are there, waiting for the right observation, to tell them apart for what we now call “noise”.

    We know something new and that is always good.

    I am told over and over again that lots of money and resources go for science and those could be used in more important areas. Somehow some fail to understand our need for exploration and that the problems of the world have nothing to do with money or resources.

    For me, the resources put into science are still not enough. More people need to be involved. We need everyone in.

  • Terry Emberson

    15. Johnonymous Says:
    June 6th, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Not every achievement is measured by its commercial value.

    Yes, it is. Whether you admit it or not, it eventually is, otherwise its just an entertaining tidbit. Sort of like how clockwork reached a height in Ancient Greece that was not duplicated until the 17th century or 18th century. The knowledge was lost because no one could make money off of it; the hand crafting made it too labor intensive to replicate cheaply. If people could make money off of it, the knowledge would have been preserved.

  • eyesoars

    “Yes, it is. Whether you admit it or not, it eventually is, otherwise its just an entertaining tidbit. Sort of like how clockwork reached a height in Ancient Greece that was not duplicated until the 17th century or 18th century. The knowledge was lost because no one could make money off of it; the hand crafting made it too labor intensive to replicate cheaply. If people could make money off of it, the knowledge would have been preserved.”

    People could have made money off concrete (which the Romans knew about), but nobody saved the recipe in spite of its obvious utility; it was rediscovered in modern times.

    About a century ago, a famous mathematician prided himself on working on things with no discernable use.

    He turned out to be wrong; it turns out that a large amount of his work turns out to be useful in cryptography.

    How is anyone to know what will ultimately be useful (or not)? Oftentimes knowledge is pursued for its own sake, or because it’s interesting or beautiful. Maybe this will be useful someday, say perhaps, finding methods for stabilizing radioactive nucleii (for FSM knows what purpose). But possibly it will never have practical use, beyond demonstrating science’s mastery of complicated particle accelerators and detectors.

    So what? Lots and lots and lots of science has no immediate use.

  • croghan27

    Now how long before someone creates ICE-9? (not an element – but that would not matter)

  • http://DiscoverMagazine Templar 7

    People, a vast majority are overcomplicating this….probably a by-product of our indigent education system here in America…Every element on the Periodic Table already has one name, and that name exists even for elements not proven to exist. The name comes from the amount of electrons involved in the natural state of the element…Easy stuff…there ain’t even any formulas yet, people!!!!

  • http://totellyouthetruth-hi55.blogspot.com/ People

    Indigent
    –adjective
    1. lacking food, clothing, and other necessities of life because of poverty; needy; poor; impoverished.

    Huh?
    Thanks for clearing everything up, @Templar7.
    We live in your shadow.

  • cknob

    The table already has a designated category for these short lived “created” elements, the Rare Earth elements Actinide series. I agree with those defending the utility of reproducing formation of these rarely occurring natural constructs. Just the technology realized in the pursuit of high energy matter is worth the exercise.

  • http://www.asdf.com BITORRENT GUy

    I wonder if adamantium will be created soon?

  • Mish

    Is everyone in here a nuclear physicist? Everyone keeps saying that these aren’t “real” elements, or that it’s not really important if we can’t make flying cars out of them. Science is about learning more about our universe.

  • http://harshj.com harshj

    what about saarium?
    or pwoughium?

  • http://harshj.com harshj

    i mean saarcium. ni dat to me!

  • Physics

    @ Phillip E

    Quote: These elements are not psuedo, and in fact have potential beyond any existing/experimented element. Because of there already short life span and natural radioactive unstable-ness, they have an energy potential greater than Uranium. If these elements could be more sustainable then fission could be possible.

    Even if we could make these elements stable fission would be useless. Because you had to put excess energy in to create this atom any energy you would receive from fission would just be a return of your original energy minus inefficiency loss. You would lose energy.

    It is true that if all elements that can exist did naturally (right after the big bang) and then decayed the island of stability would be a myth, but you presented no evidence that they did.

  • http://harshj.com harshj

    mwough

  • Uncle B

    Do these new elements help us understand why, the Chinese economy, driven with energy from Thorium fueled reactors, both existing CANDU and newer LFTR types, is going to pass the Amerixan economy in the next few years? Do they help us understand “unemployables” in America? Do they help us see our way beyond the 1950′s “American Dream” to a sustainable survival?
    Granted, Theoretical Physics is an important field, but Americans are suffering today. We still build 1950′s styled “bomb factory” reactors, we still use low compression, least efficient Gasoline engines, not even graduationf to Euro-diesels, and far behind in electric vehicle development – even China has a BYD, electric bus – electric bullet trains, and little Norway has anaerobic sewage digestion for methane gas used to power public bus service?
    Pleas! Scientists! Help us now, while even our progeny go without fair and decent medical care due to our unemployment! Seems a crule form of population winnowing, a genocidal cleansing of all who cannot find work?

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