In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev published a paper which included a table of all the known elements in existence showing trends in electron configuration and properties. Since then a large portion of nuclear physicists have been trying to use various techniques in order to push the boundaries of this table.
As of May last year with the production of Livermorium (atomic number 116) there exists 118 elements in the periodic table, but only 114 have ever been experimentally confirmed and recognised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Four elements exist as theoretical models with a small amount of evidence due to the inconclusive amounts of these produced. As such they adopt a nomenclature which reflects their corresponding atomic number. These include Ununtritium (Z=113), Ununpentium (Z=115), Ununseptium (Z=117) and Ununpentium (Z=118).
However Professor Dirk Rudolph of Lund University in Sweden believes he has amassed enough evidence to confirm the existence of Ununpentium. This follows after claims that back in 2004 a team of Russian and American scientists had created the substance but the evidence was deemed insufficient. In order to produce this element involved bombarding a film of americium with calcium ions with the resulting ununpentium atom existing for a fraction of a second before decaying to stable lighter elements. The longest measured half-life of this fascinating element is only approximately 200ms.
Four isotopes are believed to exist with 172, 173, 174 and 175 neutrons in their nucleus respectively. If approved a likely name to be given to this element would follow that of its discoverer Sergie Dmitriev. Due to the rapid decay time the uses of this super heavy element and those of similar “weight” are very limited and may only ever be useful for research purposes.
Everyday these nuclear physicists are pushing the boundaries of the heaviest element in the periodic table with the sights set of pushing this far beyond ununoctium (Z=118). There is even a theory called the island of stability which states that at slightly higher atomic numbers there may exist super heavy elements which actually have rather substantial half lifes. These could be minutes to days with some optimists even suggesting millions of years. This theory is not unfounded though, complete quantum shells produce “magic numbers” in the quantity of protons or neutrons in the nucleus which has a spike of stability. An element of particular interest is Unbihexium-310 which would contain 126 protons and 184 neutrons which makes it “doubly magic” and the most likely candidate for much greater stability.
Will we see the confirmation of ununpentium over the coming weeks? Will we soon see super heavy elements synthetically produced which have substantial stability? If we did these could have the implication for an everyday use and possibly change the way we live!