Superheavy Relativistic Chemistry

Einstein’s law of special relativity provides us with a model for how particles will act when moving at close to the speed of light. Recently there has been great advancement in the production of superheavy elements.

For these elements with an atomic number greater than 104 life is short lived. The instability of the nuclei, created through fusion is such that the superheavy elements decay within seconds of creation. However this hasn’t stopped researchers from combining these with other nuclei through covalent bonds to produce superheavy compounds.

These superheavy nuclei have such an large number of protons that they actually act to accelerate the “orbiting” electrons to ~80% the speed of light. At this speed you would begin to expect the law of special relativity to raise it’s head and cause strange results in the properties of the structure.

Until recently the covalently bonded compound didn’t offer anything out of the usual when examined. Most likely due to the type of bonding, which is a sharing of the outer free electrons between the neighbouring nuclei. This sharing means none of the electrons are free to undergo this accelerating process.

However Christoph Düllmann  at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany and his colleagues have combined seaborgium and six carbon monoxide molecules. The seaborgium element is the 106th in the periodic table and as the researchers have done this using a metal-carbon bonds will leave some outer electrons free.

This compound only lasted 10 seconds but in that time both the volatility and reactivity. When compared to the theoretical predictions it was found that these had a discrepancy that only evoking special relativity could rectify.

This once again displays the power of the theories that Einstein laid down over 100 years ago and how they can still be used to explain discrepancies between fundamental physics in systems when the velocities become comparable to the speed of light.


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