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.
The weights, they are a-changin’.
What we’re taught in school science classes is a streamlined version of a muddier and more complicated reality, and it’s no different with something as iconic as the periodic table of elements. This week the venerable chart’s overseers decided to fiddle with the atomic weights of 10 elements, changing their values from a single set number to a range of numbers, which is messier but more accurately resembles the messy real world.
The reason for the change is that atomic weights are not always as concrete as most general-chemistry students are taught, according to the University of Calgary, which made the announcement, and the snappily named International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry‘s Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights, which oversees such weighty matters. [CNET]
A little square that has been left blank on the periodic table for all these years might finally be filled in. A team of American and Russian scientists have just reported the synthesis of a brand new element–element 117. Says study coauthor Dawn Shaughnessy: “For a chemist, it’s so fundamentally cool” to fill a square in that table [The New York Times].
If other scientists confirm the discovery, the still-unnamed element will take its place between elements 116 and 118, both of which have already been tracked down. A paper about element 117 will soon be published in Physical Review Letters, and scientists say the new element appears to point the way toward a brew of still more massive elements with chemical properties no one can predict [The New York Times].
Element 117 was born in a particle accelerator in Russia, where the scientists smashed together calcium-48 — an isotope with 20 protons and 28 neutrons — and berkelium-249, which has 97 protons and 152 neutrons. The collisions spit out either three or four neutrons, creating two different isotopes of an element with 117 protons [Science News].
The new element 117, takes it place between two superheavy elements that scientists know to be very radioactive and that decay almost instantly. But many researchers think it is possible that even heavier elements may occupy an “island of stability” in which superheavy atoms stick around for a while [Science News]. If this theory holds up, scientists say, the work could generate an array of strange new materials with as yet unimagined scientific and practical uses [New York Times].