Sept. 16, 2013
Citius, altius, fortius. This is the Olympic motto, meaning, “Faster, higher, stronger.” But this motto has other applications.
“The Olympic motto translated to the nuclear landscape calls for the quest of new isotopes at its outskirts, which is particularly true at its upper end,” researchers from Lund University in Sweden, who confirmed element 115, wrote in a university publication last month.
First discovered in 2004 by Russian scientists in Dubna, Russia, element 115’s existence was confirmed Aug. 28. The new element is currently referred to by a general name: Ununpentium (Uup), Latin for “Element 115.”
According to the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the original Russian experiment produced four atoms of the new element, which decayed after about 90 milliseconds.
It was made by bombarding samples of Americium, another man-made element, with beams of calcium atoms.
David Anderson, the chair of the UCCS Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, commented on the purpose of these kinds of experiments and discoveries.
“There’s nothing ‘useful’ about climbing Mt. Everest, but it’s there,” he said. “That’s pretty much what scientists say; if we can do it, let’s try.”
But the purpose may not be completely esoteric and abstract. Man-made elements are not a new phenomenon, and many applications have been found for man-made elements.
For example, according to Kevin Tvrdy, a UCCS assistant chemistry professor, Americium, element 95, is used in smoke detectors.
In short, scientists don’t often know what a given element’s applications are when they discover it.
Any element after Uranium, element 92, on the periodic table is considered man-made, though some have later been found to exist in trace amounts within other naturally-occurring elements.
Neptunium, number 93, was first created in 1940. Other elements since then have been discovered, with the heaviest being element 118, or Ununoctium.
The future of these man-made elements may be much more interesting. According to the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, “The ‘island of stability’ refers to a predicted region of superheavy elements on the chart of nuclides with half-lives that are longer by several orders of magnitude than the half-lives of other superheavy elements.”
In other words, while Ununpentium might last only 90 milliseconds, an element in an island of stability may last seconds or minutes.
While that might not seem very long, it will give scientists much more time to study the element to learn more about it.
A predicted island of stability was confirmed to exist with element 114. According to phys.org, the next island of stability is predicted at element 120, which has yet to be created.