US and Russian scientists claim discovery of newest element

October 20, 2006

Brussels, 19 October 2006

A research team of Russian and American scientists have claimed the discovery of the newest element, called element 118 after the number of protons in its nucleus. The discovery of the new element offers scientists the hope of further developing our understanding of the atom's internal structure.

The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, working with a group at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, produced three atoms of element 118 by bombarding a californium target with a beam of calcium until the atoms fused.

The team then observed the alpha decay from element 118 to element 116 and then to element 114. The three atoms the researchers produced existed for less than a millisecond.

The discovery brings the total to five new elements for the Livermore-Dubna collaboration (113, 114, 115, 116 and 118).

'The decay properties of all the isotopes that we have made so far paint the picture of a large, sort of flat 'Island of Stability' and indicate that we may have luck if we try to go even heavier,' said Ken Moody, Livermore's team leader.

The term 'Island of Stability' comes from nuclear physics and describes the possibility of elements which have particularly stable 'magic numbers' of protons and neutrons. This would allow certain isotopes of some transuranic elements (elements with atomic numbers greater than 92) to be far more stable than others, and thus decay more slowly.

Element 118 is thought to be a noble gas that lies right below radon on the periodic table of elements. Its relative atomic mass is 294. It will retain its provisional name 'ununoctium' until it has been verified and a name approved by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

In the future, the LLNL-Dubna team says it will continue to map the region near the Island of Stability and in 2007 will look for element 120 by bombarding a plutonium target with iron isotopes.

The discovery of new elements offers scientists the hope of further developing our understanding of the atom's internal structure.

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