It’s the scientific equivalent of winning Olympic Gold.
Researchers have discovered four new elements to be added to the periodic table – the classification of chemical elements which constitute about 15 percent of the matter in the universe.
Thanks to scientists in Japan, Russia and America, elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 have become the first to be added to the table since 2011.
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has announced that credit for the discovery of element 113 has been awarded to a team of scientists from Japan – the first time that a periodic table element has been found in Asia.
Celebrating the news, the RIKEN Institute – which embraces a number of research centres around the country – said its success was the result of “nearly a decade of painstaking work” by the Nishina Center for Accelerator-based science, led by Kosuke Morita. The group has carried out long-standing research important for understanding the nature of atomic nuclei.
Discovery of elements 115, 117 and 118 was awarded to a Russian-American team from the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which paid tribute to the work of scientists in Russia and Japan as well as the US.
Listed by their atomic number, the elements of the periodic table are divided into metals and non-metals with the majority existing naturally, the remainder being synthesized in laboratories.
The experiments which were conducted leading to the latest discoveries have been described as “highly difficult” and “extremely lengthy”. The superheavy elements were discovered by slamming lighter nuclei into each other, but like others they decay rapidly, only existing for fractions of a second.
The new discoveries are all man-made and mean that the seventh row of the table is now complete. The elements will be officially named by the teams that discovered them.
Often identified after places, there is speculation that element 113 may be officially named “japonium”.
Kosuke Morita said that as well as deciding the new name, his team would spend the coming year looking to the “unchartered territory of element 119 and beyond”, which could lead to the eventual discovery of the “island of stability” – a term in nuclear physics referring to a region beyond the current periodic table containing new superheavy elements.