The periodic table is getting a new addition - say hello to element 117: ununseptium

The 'superheavy' element existed for only a fraction of a second - but it takes scientists one step closer to the periodic table's theorised 'island of stability'

The periodic table of elements is one step closer to welcoming a new addition to its ranks after scientists independently confirmed the existence of a highly radioactive 117th element.

An international team working at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, were able to create four atoms of ununseptium (the name is a Latin placeholder meaning ‘117’ - a more official title will come later) four years after the element was first spotted by US and Russian researchers.

Like other superheavy elements that populate the tail end of the periodic table, ununseptium only exists for fractions of a second before decaying into other elements.

Scientists hope that its creation is the latest step towards the discovery of the so-called ‘island of stability’ – a predicted group of massive but stable atoms expected to appear somewhere around atomic number 120 onwards.

An atomic number counts the protons within the nucleus of an atom which - along with neutrons - make up the vast majority of an atom’s weight (they’re both around 1800 times more massive than electrons). Like electrons these particles are divided into different shells or levels of atomic energy that predict the element’s stability.

View into the 120-meter long particle accelerator at GSI, which accelerates calcium-ions used to produce new elements. Credit: GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research

Certain ‘magic numbers’ of protons or neutrons are known to be particularly hardy, and some scientists have predicted that once they make it through the volatile numbers (such as 117) then elements located within the ‘island of stability’ could have half-lives of millions of years - a quality that is not unusual in itself, but that opens up a range of never-before-seen applications when applied to larger elements.

By comparison, ununseptium existed for less than a tenth of a second in the Helmholtz particle accelerator before decaying into a mass of different elements including dubnium (atomic number 105) and lawrencium (atomic number 103).

The team from the GSI Helmholtz Centre led by Christoph Düllmann were actually trying to create element 119 at the time by using a particle accelerator to fire titanium atoms (atomic number 22) at berkelium (atomic number 97).

Transuranium atoms (those with an atomic number greater than uranium’s 92) rarely if ever occur in nature, and have to be artificially created by smashing together lighter elements with the correct atomic numbers.

This heavy-handed style of atomic adding up might sound simple but such experiments are extremely hard to replicate, not least because of the rarity of the target material.

Berkelium, for example, is produced in only very small amounts as a by-product of nuclear reactors and has a half-life of 330 days, giving scientists a limited time frame to use it in experiments. Just 13 milligrams of the highly purified material were used in the creation of ununseptium.

The paper detailing the experiment will be published in the journal Physics Review Letters before being reviewed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) – the body responsible for ordering and naming the elements of the periodic table.

If they give the thumbs-up then ununseptium will become an official element - a small but significant addition the general store of human knowledge that quietly makes chemistry textbooks across the world out of date.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'