The periodic table is like a big family, where every now and then a new member appears and joins the fun. Well it looks like we may have found this new character which could possibly become the largest element ever created.
This is Element 117, which was confirmed in an experiment who wasn’t even searching for it. It happened in Germany, where a group of scientists lead by Mr. Düllmann were actually looking to create element 119, an even heavier element. But it takes time to analyse the data produced by that experiment, so meanwhile they decided to try and make some Element 117, as a check to see if their detectors were working correctly. They certainly were, and in the process they created this interesting element for about a tenth of a second, until it decayed. It was made by bombarding atoms of calcium (atomic number 20) with atoms of berkelium (atomic number 97), which would then fuse together to form a heavy 117 atom.
However, this is not the first time this element has been synthesised. It has occurred twice before, in Russia, where scientists made the element in 2010 and once again in 2012.
The confirmation of this element’s creation means the organisations responsible for new elements (both The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and that of Physics) will have to revise the data collected, to ultimately add this element to the Periodic Table. But don’t get too excited about this; it took 3 years of revision for them to accept elements 114 and 116. So we still have time to carry out new experiments and find out more about it.
Unfortunately, research in this element can be quite slow. As I said before, you need berkelium, an extremely rare element which only occurs in nuclear reactions, but has a short half life so it can take a lot of time to gather the necessary amounts.
A major surprise of this experiment is the discovery of a new Lawrencium isotope. Symbol Lr, Lawrencium has an atomic number of 103, and while element 117 was decaying, they discovered a new form of this element, which although doesn’t have many applications, can be used to expand our knowledge on the magnificent elements of the Periodic Table.