Physics + Math

28
Aug

Welcome to the Periodic Table, Ununpentium

For decades, scientists have been smashing atoms into one another, hoping two elements will fuse and form—at least briefly—a new, heavier element. That’s what happened in 2004 when physicists from Russia and the United States bombarded americium—atomic number 95—with calcium ions—atomic number 20. The two stuck together for 100 fleeting milliseconds. Ununpentium was born.

But it wasn’t immediately added to the periodic table. That’s because scientists require independent confirmation before that can happen. Which it didn’t for a long time. At long last, here’s Kenneth Chang, reporting for the New York Times:

A Swedish university announced Tuesday that that had finally happened. The new work, led by physicists at Lund University in Sweden and performed at an accelerator in Darmstadt, Germany, duplicated the earlier experiment and observed the similar patterns of debris. The new findings will be published Thursday in the journal Physical Review Letters.

unilac-inside
A look inside the UNILAC accelerator at GSI Helmholtzzentrum, where ununpentium was confirmed

“Everything is perfect,” said Krzysztof Rykaczewski, a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee who was a member of the confirmation team.

Scientists on the review board still have to sift through the data before making a final decision, but it looks promising. Once the element is officially admitted, the Russian and American team will have to settle on a name, which Chang says could take months. Ununpentium will squeeze in between flerovium and livermorium, elements 114 and 116, respectively, which were added just last year.

For more on the periodic table, watch “Hunting the Elements” or check out the NOVA Elements for iPad.

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