I am pretty sure no one enjoyed memorizing the periodic table in high school as much as I did. Why did I like it so much? I really couldn't tell you, other than I'm a bottomless pit for useless information. The elements, however, are essential to our everyday functioning, and we owe the entirety of our species to their existence. Without several of them, you know where we would be? Not alive and reading this story, that's for sure. Scientists have recently confirmed a new element that is yet another piece of the puzzle that is Earth's composition.
According to Fox News, atoms of the nameless element 117 have been created and observed by scientists in Germany. A group of researchers at GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research have temporarily labeled 117 "ununseptium." The 117 refers to the number of protons in its nucleus, which means that this little guy is incredibly heavy and dense.
Heavy elements that have more than 104 positive charges dancing around their nucleus don't exist on the planet naturally. In fact, the most proton-packed naturally-occurring element is good old uranium, with only 92 plus charges. The process to make elements that are heavier is pretty interesting; in a laboratory, scientists build up the atom by growing the atomic nucleus using nuclear fusion reactions. That might mean these newly-formed elements could be used in nuclear energy production in the future. Scientists are trying to see how fat they can make an element before it can't hold any more protons. Right now, they have no idea if a limit actually exists measuring how dense an atom can be.
As more positive charges enter a nucleus, the atom unfortunately tends to become pretty unstable. (Kind of like me when I'm reading a Game of Thrones novel and someone I actually like dies.) These super dense atoms typically only live for microseconds or even nanoseconds before falling apart. Still, researchers think there must be a place where heavy elements can last much longer and deteriorate over an extended period of time. This deterioration could be manipulated for currently unknown purposes, but if scientists are studying it, I'm assuming it could be pretty beneficial to the human race.
Element 117 was first observed back in 2010, so it's about time that it gets the recognition it deserves, even if it's four long years later. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is a foundation that standardizes terminology in chemistry, and they must determine whether or not poor 117 deserves a name and any sort of formal recognition. Here's hoping that they give it a totally rad name and allow it to formally be a part of the periodic table of elements. And I really hope more research on these heavy elements leads to some awesome scientific advances.
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