Science

  • Issue 118 / July - August 2017



    The Last Elements And The Building Blocks Of The Physical World

    Noah Weaver

    Everyone knows the periodic table from high school, but did you know that it was recently completed? The final elements of the table have been discovered.


     


    The announcement of the discovery of the last four elements of the periodic table, at the International Association of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) on December 30, 2015, was met with enthusiasm all over the world. Of course, the work to find these elements started long ago. This date, however, is the date on which the studies were scientifically registered and officially accepted by the relevant committee.


    The periodic table is a grouping of elements (atoms) of similar characteristics. It came about primarily as a result of the work of the Russian chemist Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev (1834-1907). The elements in the table form 18 groups (columns), side by side, and 7 periods (rows), one under the other. To use a metaphor: with this discovery, the last four owners have taken their places in the apartment building of elements, which consists of 118 flats. The new elements have a total of 114 friends, 92 of which are found in nature.


    For now, the 113th element is known as (Uut), the 115th element as (Uup), the 117th element as (Uus), and the 118th element as (Uuo); names are still being sought for them. Elements can be named after the team who discovered them, a mythological idea, a mineral, a name of a place, or the name of a famous figure in science history.


    Let's get to know the four new elements, which were obtained by the work of Russian, American, and Japanese scientists. These elements are produced in a laboratory, like 22 other artificial elements. They are not found in nature. Though we say they’re artificially produced, they aren’t created from scratch; they’re obtained from the reactions of other elements. In other words, the possibilities of their existence are limited by the properties given to the elements that cause them to come into existence.


    These elements come into being through radioactive reactions triggered in specialized labs. These four elements, which are synthetic and radioactive, are in the 7th period. They cannot be seen with the naked eye and they are degraded in a time period shorter than a second.


    The new elements

    113th element (Uut): The element is obtained by the chain radioactive reaction of the element dubnium (Db) and has an atomic number of 113 and an atomic weight of 284. Since the study was carried out by Kosuke Morita and his team at the Riken Institute in Japan, they will be the eponyms of this element.


    115th element (Uup): This element, discovered in Russia, has a proton number of 115 and an atomic weight of 289. It was obtained by the fusions [1] of the elements americium (Am) and calcium (Ca). This and the 117th element have been discovered in studies conducted in various laboratories in Russia and the United States [2].


    117th Element (Uus): This element was obtained by the radioactive fusion reactions between calcium (Ca) and berkelium (Bk). It has the atomic number 117 and an atomic weight of 284.


    118th element (Uuo): The proton number of this last element is 118 and the atomic weight is 294. It was obtained as a result of studies done in institutes in Russia and in the United States [3]. It was obtained by the fusion of the elements californium (Cf) and calcium (Ca).


    Mendeleyev had predicted that the periodic table would eventually be filled with new elements to be found in the future. If he was alive today, perhaps he would be the most delighted scientist, as his predictions proved right. He was the famous chemist who discovered that the proton numbers of the elements were not just random numbers but continued in a sequential fashion, with no jumps in between. The point that we have arrived at today confirms Mendeleyev’s belief that we have the periodic table of elements complete with the atomic numbers starting from 1 to 118, without any gaps.


    The question remains: can there not be more elements? Today's scientific world says that the inner elements of the push-pull balance in the nucleus of an atom, such as the weak nuclear force [4] and strong nuclear force [5] do not allow this. The proton, neutron, and electrons, which are atomic sub-particles, carry the properties of smaller sub-particles, such as quarks and leptons, which make up these particles. We can thus say that the one who created inner forces in the atom can only be the creator of the smallest particles. That is, only the one who created these forces can set the limits for whether more elements can occur or not. Everything living and inanimate in the universe is made up of atoms; we can thus say that the creator of quarks and leptons is the creator of the physical world.


    After all, the physical and chemical properties of all beings are related to the atoms that form them. It can be estimated that the characteristics of the atoms were given in the first few seconds of the Big Bang. This means that all the elements were created, with all their necessary pieces, nearly 14 billion years ago.


    Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if oxygen had been created in the liquid state rather than gas. Or what would happen if the atoms that form water produced a solid under normal conditions? What would the universe look like today? Would the conditions for life have been met? Would any of us be here?


    Let's give another example about metals: which elements would be metal or non-metal was decided at the very beginning of the universe. This is important: the physical and chemical properties of the metals we use are different from each other. If this were not the case, metals would have a very limited use in human societies. Suppose there were no iron or aluminium: how would we build a ship? If we used other metals ÔÇô say, a metal with a high density, such as Osmium (Os) ÔÇô then the ship wouldn’t float. A ship made of another semi-lightweight metal, such as lithium (Li), might float and move faster, due to its low density. But another feature of lithium is that it is very active. It is so active that a ship made of lithium would react with the water and explode as soon as it made contact. If a gold (Au) or platinum (Pt) ship were built, it would probably float for hundreds of years. But it is impossible to find the funding for such a ship.


    Even one small difference in the elements could have completely changed how the entire universe functions.  Everything was designed with a superb order at the atomic level, even to the level of subatomic particles. One must ask how this perfect design came into being.


    The elements were precisely created according to how human beings would need them, in what state, and with which physical and chemical characteristics. Perhaps it will be proved that the new elements will have strategic functions in the future. Whatever their fate, their existence is further proof of the universe’s perfect order.


     


    Notes


    [1] Fusion: The process of combining two elements as a result of nuclear reactions to form a heavier element

    [2] Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    [3] Russia's Joint Institute for Nuclear Research and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

    [4] Weak nuclear force affects proton and neutron sub-particles

    [5] Strong nuclear force allows the proton and neutrons in the atomic nucleus to stay together.


    References

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35220823

    http://www.webelements.com

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