Technology & Science

New element to be added to periodic table

Scientists are about to add a new, super-heavy element to the periodic table.
A new element is set to occupy spot 112 on the periodic table. ((iStock))
Scientists are about to add a new, super-heavy element to the periodic table.

"The new element is approximately 277 times heavier than hydrogen, making it the heaviest element in the periodic table," the German scientists who produced the element said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new element is massive and unstable — it can only exist for fractions of a second before splitting up in radioactive decay. It will occupy spot 112 on the periodic table. Elements are assigned numbers on the table based on how many protons they have.

The team of German researchers at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research produced the element for the first time a decade ago. The experiment that created it is very hard to duplicate, so it took years for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to independently verify its existence.

The same team that produced element 112 is also responsible for adding elements 107-111 to the periodic table. Sigurd Hofmann, who led the team at the Centre for Heavy Ion Research, has been working on adding to the table since 1976.

Hofmann and his research team made element 112 by firing charged zinc atoms at lead atoms with a particle accelerator. The nuclei of the two atoms merged and immediately begin to decay. The researchers then calculated the size of the fused nucleus by measuring the amount of energy emitted by the decaying particle.

The team's next job is to propose a name for the element. This has to be done before it can be formally added to the periodic table.

Shortlist of potential names secret

For now, Hofmann is keeping the shortlist of potential names a secret. In the meantime, it will go by the temporary name ununbium, based on the Latin words for "one one two."

Creating new elements helps scientists understand nuclear power better, which could lead to advances in nuclear power and radioactive waste management, as well as nuclear weapons.

Research teams in the United States, Russia and Japan are also engaged in an unofficial race to discover new and heavier elements. Hoffman said he believed elements with as many as 120 protons can be produced.

Creating new elements helps scientists understand nuclear power better, which could lead to advances in nuclear power and radioactive waste management, as well as nuclear weapons.

The heaviest naturally occurring element is uranium, which has 92 protons. Scientists produced the first artificial element at the University of California, Berkeley in 1940. It had 93 protons and was named neptunium.