Wait, A New Element?

So while I was reading the news, I happened to discover a page titled ‘Existence of New Element Confirmed’. That got me to wonder, was there really a new element discovered? It turns out, researches at Lund University has confirmed that a new element with the atomic number 115 exists, temporarily named Ununpentium (Uup abbreviation). Currently, the name is being debated by the International Union of Pure Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The research verified findings of the same element during a prior experiment performed in 2004 led by a Russian research team (“Existence of New Element“, 2013). Both research teams performed the same experiment; calcium-48 ions were bombarded at a thin film of americium-243. The collision of the ions and atoms resulted in a formation unupentium, which decayed milliseconds later due to its radioactive nature (“Ununpentium“, n.d.). Although this begs the question “how was this element confirmed to exist”, analysis of ┬áthe energy released through radiation matched the theoretical values of the element confirming its existence (“Existence of New Element“, 2013).

Ununpentium Bohr Model
Ununpentium Bohr Model

That got me to ponder, what chemical/physical properties does this new element have? Unfortunately, it is currently impossible to give a definitive answer to that. Every isotope of Uup that has been discovered all have an average half-life of 100ms. That means a large enough sample cannot be collected to observe the element’s properties. However, it is predicted that the element has similar properties to that of the group 5 elements on the periodic table (“Ununpentium“, n.d.). Uup is classified as a synthetic element, elements which have a half-lives so short relative to the Earth’s age, that most or all naturally occurring elements would have decayed completely (“Synthetic Element“, n.d.). The majority of them lie within period 7 of the periodic table.

Synthetic Elements
Synthetic Elements

So why discover new elements if they decay so quickly? Not the most moral or conventional example but plutonium, an element discovered in 1941 and was used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki (“Plutonium“, 2012). Since most of the synthetic elements are all radioactive, the majority of the are used for nuclear weapons. On a more accepted aspect of usage, plutonium is used in nuclear reactors to provide electrical energy for cities around the world (“Nuclear Reactors“, 2013). Atomic energy is considered clean as it doesn’t produce air pollutants through usage and can be used as an alternative to fossil fuel burning. However, disasters such as the recent Fukushima earthquake in 2011 and the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 serves as a constant reminder and strong argument against atomic energy.

I want to highlight the importance of the scientific method here. The original research experiment performed in 2004 produced quantifiable results. At the time, technology could not confirm such results found. The important thing was the experiment set up was reproducible in another lab. With more advanced technology and further research into the theoretical data was the reason why the team at Lund University could confirm results. Without a reproducible experiment, a scientific claim cannot be verified.

Works Cited

“Existence of New Element Confirmed.” ScienceDaily. Lund University, 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130827091636.htm>.

“Nuclear Reactors.” World Nuclear Association. N.p., July. 2013. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Power-Reactors/Nuclear-Power-Reactors/#.Uh3uPxsSZVV>.

“Plutonium.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 6 March. 2012. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/plutonium.html>.

“Synthetic Element.” Princeton University. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Synthetic_element.html>.

“Ununpentium.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ununpentium>.

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