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Podcast: Element 117 and the Island of Stability

An international collaboration of scientists has created element 117 in a laboratory at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. Element 117—temporarily referred to as ununseptium—was first created in 2010. The new work confirms that those earlier results are repeatable using a different instrument.

Element 117 is the second heaviest element ever created, landing just behind 118. It offers nuclear physicists an extreme example of how atomic nuclei behave, and thus a way to put their theories for lighter nuclei to the test. In addition, scientists are interested in seeing just how many protons and neutrons can be packed into an atomic nucleus. Is there an end to the periodic table?

But perhaps the most exciting prospect is how this research brings scientists closer to finding "the island of stability." While most super heavy nuclei are large and unwieldy, and tend to break apart in less than a second. But theory suggests there may be combinations of protons and neutrons that are structurally stable, giving the nuclei unusually long lifetimes. Besides creating element 117, the researchers also created a new isotope of element 103, Lawrencium, which stuck around for nearly 11 hours before decaying. This is leaps ahead of 117 (which has a half-life of 78 milliseconds), and most superheavy elements, which decay away in less than a second.

Listen to the podcast to hear what some of the scientists involved with this research have to say about the new work.


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