Sunday, January 10, 2016

Element 113 Discovered At Last?

Long thought to be too unstable to be synthesized in our current atom smashers, is the recent announcement by the IUPAC serves as a true confirmation of the “creation” of Element 113? 

By: Ringo Bones

In January 4, 2016, officials from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) have announced the confirmation of the discovery of not only the elusive and unstable Element 113 but also its close siblings – elements 115, 117 and 118, stating that there is now enough evidence to give them permanent places on the Periodic Table of the Elements. Given that Element 113 is notoriously located in the unstable part of the Periodic Table that it is very likely that its half-life would probably be no more than a few microseconds and this also means that they also need their respective new, official names. 

By their very nature, you won’t find these four newly discovered elements occurring naturally in reasonable abundance because they can only be produced synthetically in our corner of the universe because their isotopes that we manage to synthesize so far decay in a matter of seconds or less. Their existence has been theorized but has been difficult to confirm. Until now, elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 had temporary names and positions on the bottom “Seventh Row” of the Periodic Table of the Elements because – probably since the 1980s – scientists have struggled to create them more than once for “scientifically verifiable results”. 

Kosuke Morita and team of RIKEN in Japan had been credited for the discovery of Element 113 and its close siblings. He says: “For over seven years we continued to search for data conclusively identifying Element 113, but we just never saw another event. I was not prepared to give up however, as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again.” 

Morita’s team has been credited with the confirmed discovery of Element 113, which means they’ve won the naming rights too. Until now, the element had been known by the temporary name ununtrium and the temporary chemical symbol Uut. The three remaining elements – 115, 117 and 118 – known temporarily as ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus) and ununoctium (Uuo) respectively will also get new names. 

Previous attempts to synthesize and the discovery of Element 113 and Element 115 were reported back in February 2004 following experiments carried out between July 4 and August 10, 2003. In these experiments, the primary product was the four nuclei of Element 115 isotopes. All these four nuclei decayed through the emission of u- particles to isotopes of Element 113. But the claim has not been ratified by the IUPAC back then because of a lack of scientifically verifiable reproducibility of the results. 

Ever since the discovery of Element 114 back in 1999 as the event was announced through e-mail which was then published in the April 1999 issue of Scientific American magazine by scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna near Moscow reported strong evidence that they have created the heaviest element yet, one with 114 protons and i84 neutrons, many a nuclear physicists suggest that Element 113 is critically located in an unstable region of the Periodic Table that attempts to synthesize it only resulted in the creation of more stable heavier elements of a higher atomic number. A team led by Yuri Oganesian and Vladimir Utyonkov smashed a rare isotope – calcium-48 – with a plutonium-244 target to synthesize Element 114. Element 114 lasted an astonishing 30 seconds, far longer that the 280 microseconds of the previously discovered Element 112. The relatively long life of Element 114 was taken as proof that “islands of stability” exists in the super heavy element range. 

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