Even though creating transuranic elements in the lab has been regarded to as a mere “scientific curiosity”, is there a way to create new ones beyond the atomic number 106?
By: Ringo Bones
These days, most of the general public is not jumping up and down with excitement when it comes to synthesizing new elements beyond the atomic number 106. But for almost 35 years now, there has been a very promising method of creating “relatively stable” new elements beyond the atomic number 106.
At the start of the 1980s, nuclear chemists have thus far been frustrated in their attempts to create super heavy elements with atomic numbers greater than 106, although theories predict that some such elements may be relatively stable. Back in 1980, hopes turned to “transfer reactions” in which one nucleus transfers a portion of its nucleons to another nucleus during a collision. Traditionally, it has been believed that colliding nuclei should combine totally to form a compound nucleus, but Prof. Darlene Hoffman and colleagues from Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico observed that partial combinations occur in certain reactions. The transfer mechanism holds out hope for producing some of the super heavy elements.
Back in 1999, the technique of transfer reactions did manage to generate some excitement – and a brand new element. Via an e-mail announcement back then, scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, near Moscow reported strong evidence that they have created the heaviest element yet, one with 114 protons and 184 neutrons. In a recently published work back then, a team of nuclear physicists led by Yuri Oganessian and Vladimir Utyonkov smashed a rare isotope, calcium-48 with a plutonium-244 target to make the element 114. The then brand new element lasted an astonishingly long 30 seconds before decaying into another lighter element, far longer than the 280 microseconds of the last new element found – element 113. The relatively long life of element 114 proves that “islands of stability” exist in the super heavy element range.