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Meet the New Elements

It’s official: Elements 114 and 116 do exist and belong on the periodic table

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Unofficially, the periodic table goes up to element 118. (via Wikimedia commons)

It’s official: Elements 114 and 116 do exist and belong on the periodic table.

Well, when I say “exist,” I really mean “existed.” See, when scientists make them in the lab—by bombarding radioactive plutonium or curium with calcium nuclei—these atoms, the heaviest ever to exist, live for just a fraction of a second before undergoing radioactive decay. The only way to even know that the elements have been created is by studying that decay—measuring the time intervals between each step in the decay process and the energy of the alpha particles produced. (Check out the video below for a good explanation of how the elements were created and how scientists studied them.)

The properties of elements 114 and 116 are unknown, however, and are likely to remain so. “The lifetimes of these things have to be reasonably long so you can study the chemistry—meaning, pushing a minute,” committee chair Paul Karol, of Carnegie Mellon University, told New Scientist.

The committee also evaluated research that claimed to have created elements 113, 115 and 118 in the lab, but the scientists deemed the evidence not yet strong enough to add them to the official periodic table.

Elements 114 and 116 have the unofficial names of ununquadium and ununhexium, but their discoverers will soon be able to submit their own ideas to another committee. “As long as it’s not something really weird, they will probably say it’s fine,” said Karol.

If you were going to name a new element, what would you choose? Tell us in the comments.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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