AsianScientist (Jan. 1, 2016) – On New Year’s Eve, Kosuke Morita’s research group at Japan’s RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science had a very good reason to ring in the new year.
They had just received confirmation from the Joint Working Party of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) that element 113 had been officially recognized, making them the first Asian team – and Japan the first country in Asia – to name an atomic element.
Here are 10 things you should know about element 113, the first element to be discovered and named by researchers in Asia, and its founder, Kosuke Morita:
1. Element 113 goes by the temporary name of ununtrium and the temporary symbol Uut.
It sits between copernicium (Cn) and flerovium (Fl) on the seventh row of the periodic table, and is a p-block transactinide element placed in the boron group.
2. Element 113 is an extremely radioactive element and can only be synthesized in a laboratory.
Superheavy elements do not occur in nature and must be synthesized in nuclear reactors or particle accelerators, via nuclear fusion or neutron absorption.
Element 113 was produced by slamming lighter nuclei into each other and tracking the decay of the radioactive superheavy elements that followed.
3. A Russian-US team had also claimed credit to element 113.
Researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, US, had also laid claim to element 113 after experiments in 2004 and 2007.
The Russian-US team has since attained sufficient evidence to claim the discovery of elements 115, 117 and 118.
4. In the late 1980s, the RIKEN group began exploring new synthetic superheavy elements.
On July 23, 2004, a team of Japanese scientists at RIKEN first discovered element 113, when they bombarded a target of bismuth-209 with accelerated nuclei of zinc-70 and detected a single atom of the isotope ununtrium-278.
Subsequent experiments in 2005 and 2012 confirmed element 113’s existence.
5. Element 113’s extremely quick decay rate – less than a thousandth of a second – made its detection very difficult.
All ununtrium isotopes are extremely unstable and radioactive; its most stable known isotope, ununtrium-286, has a half-life of 20 seconds, while its lightest known isotope has a half-life of just 0.24 milliseconds.
After element 113 is synthesized, its takes a mere 0.667 milliseconds for it to quickly alter itself into another element. This process continues six times in a matter of just 135 seconds.
6. Three names are currently being considered for element 113.
Potential names for element 113 are Japonium (after Japan, the country where the element was discovered), Rikenium (after the institute where Morita works), and Nishinarium (after Yoshio Nishina, a Japanese physicist who is often called “the founding father of modern physics research in Japan”).
7. Morita’s work was published in 2012 in the Journal of Physical Society of Japan.
The paper, entitled “New Result in the Production and Decay of an Isotope,” can be downloaded from this link.
8. Morita hopes that his team’s work will eventually lead to the discovery of an “island of stability.”
Morita’s team aims to discover elements 119 and 120 via hot fusion experiments.
“Now that we have conclusively demonstrated the existence of element 113,” he says, “we plan to look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond, aiming to examine the chemical properties of the elements in the seventh and eighth rows of the periodic table, and someday to discover the island of stability.”
9. Over the years, Morita always gave an offering of 113 yen when he visited Japanese shrines.
When asked if he was superstitious, Morita says, “It’s not really a question of whether I believed it or not. The reason I did it is that I wanted to know that I had done everything humanly possible to get credit for the discovery of the element.”
He compares what his team is doing to modern alchemy. “As we can understand from the fact that the word chemistry comes from alchemy, in a sense we are doing what the alchemists were trying to do. In fact, Ernest Rutherford, who confirmed the existence of the atomic nucleus in 1911, used to say in his lectures that we had finally achieved what the alchemists had wanted to do.”
10. Morita was interested in science even as a child, but found university courses and graduate work difficult.
During his childhood years, Morita enjoyed observing the moon and made a radio with a germanium diode. He found high school physics particularly interesting.
During his undergraduate studies in physics, however, he found mathematics hard. And as a graduate student, he managed to complete his coursework but had great difficulty completing his thesis.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.