According to a release from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, a new element has been discovered, one that resides in a tiny slice of paradise called the island of stability. Element 117– yet to receive a formal name – is the fifth new element scientists have discovered in the past decade.
“The discovery of element 117 is the culmination of a decade-long journey to expand the periodic table and write the next chapter in heavy-element research,” says Yuri Oganessian, scientific leader of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research and spokesperson for the collaboration. JINR is a Russia-based international intergovernmental research organization.
Although these elements only appear in the lab, some researchers say they may occur in nature as extremely rare, fleeting by-products of supernova.
The quest has increasingly been driven by what nuclear physicists call the island of stability – a range of very heavy elements, not yet created, that theory suggests should remain stable far longer than many of the elements researchers have created in the lab so far.
Finding element 117 took patience. According to the LLNL website, the effort took two years. It began at the High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Lab with a 250-day irradiation to produce 22 mg of berkelium. This was followed by 90 days of processing at ORNL to separate and purify the berkelium. Then, lab in Dimitrovgrad, Russia, had to prepare the berkelium target. Finally, calcium ions were fired at the target for 150 days. And, that was cutting it close: Berkelium has a half-life of only 320 days.
The result: six atoms of element 117. The atoms existed for between 21 and 45 millionths of a second.
The team included scientists from the JINR (Dubna, Russia), the Research Institute for Advanced Reactors (Dimitrovgrad), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“This is a significant breakthrough for science,” LLNL director George Miller says. “The discovery of a new element provides new insight into the makeup of the universe and is a testimony to the strength of science and technology at the partner institutions.”
The team now is gearing up to probe element 117’s chemical properties. The team’s results appear in a research paper accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Check out the animation of the creation of element 117 here.