The periodic table has just received a recent addition in the form of super-heavy element 117. A US-Russian collaboration first announced the creation of the new element, temporarily being named ununseptium, in 2010. In a press release, Professor David Hinde of the Australian National University Nuclear Physics Department, one of the authors of a paper published today in Physics Review Letters, said, “Making element 117 is at the absolute boundary of what is possible right now.”
Prior to 1930, the periodic table only contained naturally-occurring elements, the heaviest of which was uranium, atomic number 92. Since then, nuclear physics experiments have yielded an additional 27 elements. The target needed to produce element 117, berkelium-249, is itself extremely hard to generate, according to Physics World. Hinde was part of the team at the GSI laboratory in Germany that fused calcium-48 and berkelium-249. More than 1,019 atoms of calcium-48 were fired at the berkelium target to produce just four atoms of element 117. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has to accept confirmation before the element is officially added to the periodic table.
Ununseptium’s position on the periodic table places it in the halogen family along with fluorine and chlorine, elements that are characterized by high electron affinity. However, as one moves down a column on the periodic table, this tendency decreases. It is thought that if enough ununseptium could be produced to observe chemical interactions, element 117 would be more likely to lose rather than gain electrons.
With a dozen discoveries since he wrote “The Elements,” perhaps Tom Lehrer should come out of retirement to add more lines to his song.
Thankfully, until then, AsapSCIENCE has us covered: