Ununpentium Rocks the World of Science With a Blast of Radioactivity

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By:  Sarah Werner

After ten years of extensive research and experimentation, Dirk Rudolph of Lund University in Sweden worked in collaboration with scientists from the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany to create the 115th element on the periodic table on September 10, 2013 – Ununpentium.

According to an article written by Jeffrey Kluger in the TIME Science & Space online magazine, the ununpentium atom was first created in 2004 by American and Russian scientists led by S.N. Dmitriev at Russia’s Flerov Laboratory Nuclear Reactions. The existence of the element could not be confirmed in 2004 because the experiment had to be successfully repeated in order for it to earn a spot on the periodic table of elements.

The experiment was documented by the American Physical Society, which stated that “to produce an element with 115 protons, the researchers at GSI bombarded a rotating target coated with amercium (95 protons) with a beam of calcium atoms (20 protons) travelling at about one-tenth the speed of light.”

“They use a particle accelerator where they spin [the particle] towards the center, and they have one isotope that’s in the center, and they accelerate the others towards it, and hopefully they collide with enough force that they actually stick together and stay put,” explained Devon Grilly, a chemistry teacher at Hopkinton High School about the process of creating new elements, “It’s sort of like an enforced fusion of the elements.”

As you move down the periodic table, the elements change from naturally-occurring and useful to man-made and radioactive. “We know that there is a band of stability for a ratio of protons and neutrons…and you can take that band of stability and find these pockets, called ‘islands of stability’, where you can have these super-heavy elements and still be stable,” Grilly stated about the stability patterns of the man-made elements.

As the atomic number of elements on the periodic table of elements increases, the number of protons and neutrons increases, thus changing the elements’ properties, for example, its mass.

The synthetic and radioactive elements are not commonly found in everyday life. The half-lives and decaying period of these elements range from a year to milliseconds.

Grilly explained that “it’s taken this long to confirm [the existence of ununpentium] because they need to be able to detect it before it disappears. My guess is tha

t the half-life of this 115 that they have confirmed is pretty short.”

“A new component of the work was the researchers’ ability to detect flashes of

emitted light as the nuclei decayed to lighter, more stable isotopes,” added the American Physical Society document, “the energies of these flashes were used to determine the number of protons in several of the daughter nuclei, providing additional support that they originated in element 115.”

Chemistry teacher Devon Grilly is willing to share her iknowledge on the creation of elements to any student that is curious.
Chemistry teacher Devon Grilly is willing to share her knowledge on the creation of elements to any student that is curious.

 

Although the quick decay and unstable properties of elements like ununpentium make them irrelevant in everyday life, they are still significant additions in the field of science.

“The purpose for the most part is confirmation, that we understand how atoms work. If we really understand electron configurations and how a nucleus works, then we should be able to build atoms,” Grilly said.

Additionally, the creation of new elements teaches scientists more about quantum mechanics, a sect of science for which the scientific community still does not know much.

“Elements 115 can provide a lot of insight into how elements are created in nature and how the universe itself came into being. It may also help scientists create even heavier – but far stabler – elements down the line, ones that really could have everyday applications,” Kluger added.

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