Wednesday, 14 April 2010

New element!

A paper, just published in Physical Review Letters, has announced the first observation of element 117. This element, which will only be named when confirmed by an independent experiment and ratified by IUPAC, has been observed in an collaborative experiment between groups in Russia and the USA. The experiment took an isotope of Calcium and an isotope of an already rather heavy synthetic nucleus Berkelium, and produced two different isotopes of element 117. These isotopes decayed by a combination of alpha decay and fission, with a chain of decays that left a trail from which element 117 could be deduced. The observation gives further evidence that there may be more long-lived elements in the region.

There is no element 117 on Earth, but it is possible that it is produced in supernovae. Better understanding of the superheavy elements created in the lab helps us understand element formation in the stars, as well as the way in which protons and neutrons interact to give stable nuclei.