Periodic tables around the world may need to be updated in the coming weeks. An international team of scientists announced over the weekend that they confirmed the existence of the heaviest metal ever observed: element 117.
The metal, which does not exist in nature, has become known as ‘ununseptium’ (Latin for 117), though no officially recognized name has yet been determined. It took a collaboration of 72 scientists and engineers from 16 institutions around the globe to finally confirm element 117’s existence.
The super-heavy metal was first reported in April 2010 by researchers working at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna, Russia, about 120 kilometres north of Moscow. The team managed to generate six atoms of the element. Independent scientists have been working since then to recreate element 117, verifying the previous results.
In order to generate atoms of element 117 — which persists for only milliseconds before degenerating into other elements and subatomic particles — researchers had to smash a stream of calcium-48 atoms into a chunk of berkelium-249 in a particle accelerator.
The berkelium-249, which is itself a laboratory-synthesized element, took 18 months to produce at Oakridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The confirmation — which occurred at the GSI Helmhotz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Damstadt, Germany — fills in a long-standing gap in the periodic table. Previously, element 117 was only theoretical. After this weekend’s announcement, all elements up to element 118 on the Period Table have been observed by scientists.
Now that element 117 has been independently verified in multiple experiments, the International Unions of Pure and Applied Physics and Chemistry will determine if the evidence is strong enough to permanently add it to the periodic table. If it is approved, element 117 will be given a formal name under international atomic naming conventions.
The research was published in the journal Physics Review Letters on May 3.