A new element has been confirmed by scientists at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. Element 117, which was first documented by scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, could hold the key to discovering various ground-breaking applications of super-heavy elements (defined as an element with more than 104 protons in its nucleus).
The element is manmade, created by shooting beams of atoms at a sheet of atoms in the hopes that two atoms will collide and their nuclei will merge. At the atomic level, the probability of a collision between two atoms to form Element 117 is very slim; only 4 atoms of the element were created. Additionally, the element is very dense: it has 40 percent more mass than lead. Having such a high number of protons in its nucleus means that the element is very radioactive, decaying quickly to form more stable elements that are more commonly found. Atoms of Element 117 only exist for a tenth of a second, long enough for scientists to confirm its existence and begin the process of adding it to the periodic table.
So why are super-heavy elements significant if they only exist for nanoseconds or milliseconds at a time?
There is currently a circulating theory referred to as the “island of stability” which states that certain elements with specific atomic numbers may have greatly extended half-lives, which could make them useful. The discovery of Element 117 is said to be “an important step on the path to the production and detection of elements situated on the ‘island of stability’ of super-heavy elements” by Horst Stocker, the scientific director at the GSI Helmholtz Center.
The constant search for and discovery of new elements is just one example of how our scientific perception of the world is constantly changing. It highlights the importance of adapting to these changes in science and technology and keeping an open mind for the discoveries that lie ahead.
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