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Unstable element 114 reproduced; dashes hopes of atomic stability

Scientists at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory last week confirmed that they were able to produce element 114, but the super-heavy sample quickly decayed, dashing hopes that it would be stable.

Scientists at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory last week confirmed that they were able to produce element 114, but the super-heavy sample quickly decayed, dashing hopes that it would be stable.

Russian scientists first claimed to create atoms of the element informally referred to as "ununquadium" 10 years ago. Since then, scientists hoped that the element, number 114 on the periodic table, was an "island of stability" where it could exist in large quantities for a long period of time.

That turned out not to be true, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Scientists make super-heavy elements one atom at at time by smashing together the nuclei of lighter elements, fusing them together to form the heavier nucleus of the larger element.

But most super-heavy elements are unstable, and only exist for fractions of a second before rapidly decaying back into lighter material.

Nuclear physicists believe that the instability plateaus at a particular number, with the number of protons and neutrons able to produce enough binding energy to counteract the forces that tear apart the heavy nuclei.

Called an "island of stability", the stable elements are usually surrounded by unstable elements that dissipate in nanoseconds.

There aren't any practical uses for super-heavy elements at the end of the periodic table, but it's a frontier still to be explored.

As for that island of stability: the hope now rests on elements 120 and 126.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com