AsianScientist (Jan. 1, 2016) – Element 113 is Asia’s first contribution to the periodic table, after a decade of incredible perseverance by Kosuke Morita’s research group at Japan’s RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science.
On New Year’s Eve, Morita received a letter 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) officially recognizing the discovery.
The RIKEN group has also been given naming rights to the new element, which sits between copernicium and flerovium on the periodic table and goes by the temporary name of ununtrium (Uut).
The research began in the late 1980s, at RIKEN’s Linear Accelerator Facility, and using the GARIS ion separator, developed by Morita’s group to explore new synthetic superheavy elements.
In September 2003, the researchers began bombarding a thin layer of bismuth with zinc ions traveling at about ten percent the speed of light. Their fusion would theoretically form an atom of element 113, but its extremely quick decay rate – less than a thousandth of a second – made detection very difficult.
After two successful attempts at synthesizing a nucleus of element 113 in 2004 and 2005, another seven years would go by before the team observed a third event.
“For over seven years, we continued to search for data conclusively identifying element 113, but we just never saw another event,” Morita shares. “I was not prepared to give up, however, as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again.”
On August 12, 2012, Morita’s wish came true, when his group observed the crucial third event, which demonstrated that element 113 was the source of the decay chain.
The results of Morita’s experiments have been published in the Journal of Physical Society of Japan. The IUPAC report will be published in an early 2016 issue of the IUPAC journal, Pure and Applied Chemistry.
Significance and future research
Naming privileges aside, Morita hopes that his team’s work will eventually lead to the discovery of an “island of stability,” consisting of many elements with longer half-lives. His plans to search for even heavier elements on the periodic table, such as elements 119 and 120, will require hot fusion, he says.
Explaining the significance of his research to a RIKEN newsletter, Morita says,
“From the viewpoint of chemistry, it’s very important since we are filling in one space in the periodic table, and there may be only 173 spaces there. So far, fewer than 120 [elements] have been discovered.”
“It’s also important symbolically. All the elements before were discovered in the West, and it is wonderful that we now have an element discovered in Asia.”
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Photo: RIKEN.
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