The Search For Element 119

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Science News

The Headline

Modern alchemists search for element 119

The Grind

Kosuke Morita is a nuclear physicist at Japan’s Kyushu University.

In 2004, Morita and his colleagues became the first Asian team to synthesize a new element on the periodic table when they produced nihonium (Nh, 113), an extremely radioactive element that flashed into existence for about one thousandth of a second.

Now, the team is trying to create element 119 AKA “ununennium.”

There are currently 24 “man-made” elements on the period table, represented by numbers 95-118. The creation of these elements requires nuclear fusion, which is achieved by smashing two atoms together at extremely high speeds.

The average diameter of the particles being smashed is roughly one trillionth of a centimeter. The chances of successful fusion are roughly one in 100 trillion.

If fusion occurs, the resulting element will exist for only the briefest of moments.

The Details

Morita’s team created nihonium by smashing zinc into bismuth at 10% the speed of light. The feat took more than four trillion attempts; creating element 119 could be even harder.

To synthesize element 119, Morita’s team will need to blast a curium atom with vanadium beams for months without destroying the target. If fusion occurs, the new element will exist in microscopic amounts for less than one second. To increase the odds of success, Morita will use two types of particle accelerators simultaneously, a ring cyclotron and a linear accelerator.

Morita faces serious competition from Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian, whose team has already discovered flerovium (114), moscovium (115), livermorium (116), tennessine (117), and oganesson (118).

Oganessian’s team plans to use titanium and berkelium to create element 119. While this method has a higher chance of success than Morita’s method, the Russian team will be hard pressed to obtain enough berkelium for the experiment.

Berkelium is a very rare element with a half-life of less than one year.

No matter which team succeeds, the discovery of element 119 is expected to mark a turning point in the era of atomic science because physicists believe the 8th row of the periodic table contains superheavy elements that can remain stable for hundreds of years.



Heating Up

The Headline

February had Antarctica’s hottest day on record

The Grind

Argentina’s national meteorological service on Thursday measured temperatures of 65 degrees at Esperanza Base, which is located at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“That would make it the hottest temperature that we have seen over the length of record that we have for Antarctica,” says Randall Cerveny of the World Meteorological Organization.

The Details

The historic finding must be verified by an international panel of experts before it becomes official – a process that could take up to nine months – but there is little reason to doubt the report.

2019 was measured as the second hottest year on record and the decade ending at the start of 2020 was measured as the hottest decade on record.

“This is unfortunately a continuing trend,” says Cerveny. “This station just set the existing record only just a few years ago in 2015. So we are seeing these high temperature records – not only in Antarctica, but across the entire world – fall, whereas we just don’t see cold temperature records anymore.”

Warmer temperatures in Antarctica are problematic in that they cause glaciers to melt and break off. This drives sea levels up and increases temperatures.




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