Element 115, in Moscow’s name?

The IBR 2 pulse reactor at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in the town of Dubna in the Moscow Region.

The IBR 2 pulse reactor at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in the town of Dubna in the Moscow Region.

Boris Babanov / RIA Novosti
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) may, later this year, recognize a new element, atomic number 115 of the periodic table. As yet unnamed, this element, which pervades science fiction and some conspiracy theories, could be named Moscovium, for the Russian capital.

Scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna near Moscow are hopeful that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will accept their discovery of the 115th element on the periodic table by the end of this year.

Temporarily called ununpentium, which means one-one-five in Latin, the scientists hope to give the 115th element a permanent name once the discovery is officially recognized by the IUPAC.

“We might call it Moscovium – in honour of the Russian capital, but that’s just one of the possible names,” Andrei Popeko, deputy director of the Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions at JINR, said RIR.

The magic element: what’s important about it?

The nucleus of the new element contains 115 protons and neutrons. It is an extremely heavy substance, and thus placed towards the end of the periodic table. The element, Popeko noted, can be created on Earth only in a particle accelerator, and at the rate of only one atom per week.

Only 98 elements are known to be found naturally on earth. Some of them are very unstable and found in miniscule quantities. Elements that come ahead of fermium (atomic number 100) can be obtained from nuclear reactors, while the heavier elements are synthesized in particles accelerators.

According to Popeko, it is possible that element 115 could be found in space. And while the element can be isolated in the laboratory for about a tenth of a second, isotopes in the universe may have a longer life span.

“The discovery of this element is important for the understanding of the processes occurring in the universe,” Popeko said.

Elements created by humans can also help to develop a better model of the atomic nucleus.

“All current models are incomplete,’’ Popeko noted. “In order to understand the atomic nucleus, we need to move away from the well-known."Element 115 pervades science fiction, video games, and conspiracy theories because scientists theorize that some isotopes of this element may exist on the so-called Island of Stability. The theory is that if we can cram in a certain “magic number” of protons and neutrons, these elements will suddenly become very stable. 

Running out of names and elements

Element 115 was originally created by Russian scientists in 2004. For an element to be officially discovered, however, a second group must replicate the work, which is what scientists at Lund University in Sweden did in 2013.

In addition to element 115, the scientists at JINR claim priority for the discovery of three more elements – 118, 117 and 113.

The discovery of element 113, however, is debatable since researchers at RIKEN Nishina Center in Japan claim they made the discovery. The Russian scientists created a similar element in an experiment to produce atoms of element 115. However, they were so far unable to prove their right to priority due to the lack of a proper explanation for element 113’s decay chain.

Researchers at the Center for Heavy Ion Research (GSI) in Germany, GANIL in France and many others are also working to discover new elements of the periodic table with numbers between 119 and 126. However, the researchers in Dubna believe that’s going to be difficult.

“Even though we are building a special accelerator,’’ said Popeko, “most likely element 118 will be the last one discovered because the process is more and more complicated and very expensive.’’

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