Technology & Science

U.S., Russian scientists find element 118

The periodic table of elements familiar to science students everywhere will need updating after a group of U.S. and Russian scientists confirmed they had discovered a new element, number 118.

The periodic table of elements familiar to science students everywhere will need updating after a group of U.S. and Russian scientists confirmed they have discovered a new element,number 118.

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., and their counterparts at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia,said Monday they had discovered the "superheavy" element 118 in experiments conducted between February and June 2005.

It is the fifth element discovered by the Dubna-Livermore team, which previously found elements 113, 114, 115 and 116.

The results of the experiments at the JINR research facility, which are yet to be independently verified, appear in the journal Physical Review.

Prior claim

Asked whether they can definitively say element 118 had been found without independent verification, a Lawrence Livermore lab spokeswoman confirmed the discovery.

"You can safely say that element 118 has been discovered," Ann Stark told CBC. "They found three atoms."

The results of the experiments were separately verified by the Livermore and Dubna teams.

This isn't the first time a team of scientists has announced that they had discovered element 118.

On June 7, 1999, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., said they had created element 118.

That claim was retracted on July 27, 2001, after confirmation experiments failed to produce similar results.

The head of the Berkeley lab was reported to have told staff on June 25, 2002 that the research results had been fabricated but would not identify the individual or individuals responsible.

A senior scientist, Victor Ninov, was dismissed from his job in May 2002. Ninov confirmed his dismissal at the time. He maintained he was not responsible for the alleged fabrication.

Creating an element

Element 118 will be named after the results are independently verified by other teams of researchers, Stark said. Until then, it will keep its temporary name, ununoctium.

"One of the scientists told me Berkeley will likely be the ones to verify the results because they have access to the target," Stark said.

To create element 118, thescientists said they bombarded a target made of the radioactive element californium with calcium ions at the JINR U400 cyclotron. An ion is an atom that has a positive or negative charge. A cyclotron is a device that accelerates charged particles.

The experiments created three atoms of element 118 that lasted 0.9 milliseconds before they decayed into element 116 and then element 114 — part of the "transuranic" family of elements. Transuranic elements appear after uranium on the periodic table.

Scientists were able to identify the creation of element 118 by analyzing the atoms' patterns of decay.

Stark said the Russian-Livermore team's experiment differed from the previous one at the Berkeley lab.

"They used a completely different target and projectile," she said.

Next year, the Dubna-Livermore team is to set its sights on finding element 120.

"The world is made up of about 90 elements," Livermore team leader Ken Moody said in a statement. "Anything more you can learn about the periodic table is exciting. It can tell us why the world is here and what it is made of."