Magazine article Science News

New Elements Pop in, Cousins May Linger

Magazine article Science News

New Elements Pop in, Cousins May Linger

Article excerpt

Two new elements, numbers 116 and 118, have winked briefly into existence during high-energy impacts inside a particle accelerator, scientists announced this week. The not-yet-confirmed findings may spark even more element discoveries this year, several researchers say, that may spill from the heavy end of the periodic table of elements like fruit from a cornucopia.

Out of that horn of plenty, experimenters later may pluck long-predicted, extraordinarily stable, superheavy isotopes, the findings suggest. Isotopes are versions of an element that differ only in their numbers of neutrons.

The discoveries are "really very exciting news," comments Sigurd Hofmann of GSI, the German center for heavy-ion research in Darmstadt. Experiments have begun there this week to attempt to duplicate and improve upon the results, he says.

Victor Ninov of Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) National Laboratory led a team of government and university scientists in the recent experiments. By pummeling a lead target for more than 10 days with roughly a million trillion krypton ions, the team made three atoms of 118, which quickly decayed into 116, 114, and other elements.

Prevailing wisdom held that the approach wouldn't work because it involved hurling unusually heavy particles against the target. The team tried anyway, encouraged by the calculations of Robert Smolanczuk, a Fulbright scholar from the Soltan Institute for Nuclear Studies in Warsaw, Poland, who is working at the Berkeley lab.

"By golly, the miracle did happen. …

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