After nine years in a laboratory, Japanese scientists announced on Wednesday that they finally created element 113, an element that does not occur naturally on Earth. At least, they’re pretty sure they did. The same team thought they had created the elusive element back in 2004, but the evidence was not conclusive. This time researchers say they have “unambiguous proof.”
Element 113, an atom that has 113 protons in its nucleus, is temporarily named Ununtrium, meaning one-one-three.
Element 113 is not the heaviest atom ever created, but has proven extremely difficult to synthesize because it is very unstable and decays almost immediately.
To synthesize element 113 researchers used a giant atom smasher at the RIKEN Nishina centre for Accelerator-based Science in Japan. Jon Bardin of The Los Angeles Times explains:
The researchers collided zinc, which has 30 protons, with bismuth, which has 83. The result was an atom with 113 protons in its nucleus, the researchers say.
But the new element quickly decayed. Observing the nature of the decay is crucial to proving the identity of the new element. [Lead researcher] Morita says the decay data indicate that the collision did indeed create a 113-proton element, though the evidence has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The discovery still needs to be verified, but if the formula holds up, it will be the first time an Asian team created a new element, and as a result, gets to choose a permanent name for that element. The decision will be made by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the agency that regulates such things.
20 different elements, including super-heavy element 118, have been made since 1940. With the latest discovery, Morita said in a statement that he now hopes to create “element 119 and beyond.”
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