Last year, scientists in Germany set out to create the heaviest known element in the universe: element 119. For five months, they attempted to fuse the atoms of two lighter elements to form one large atom with 119 protons in its nucleus. Like other artificially created superheavy elements (those with 103 or more protons), element 119 will decay in a fraction of a second. Scientists strive to make ever-heavier elements to win acclaim (U.S. and Soviet scientists battled over their discoveries frequently during the Cold War) and to understand the processes that govern the behavior of atomic nuclei. Since wrapping up their experiment at the end of the year, the German researchers have been sifting through terabytes of data for a hint of element 119. If they find proof, the scientists will not only win the right to name it, they will do something even more unusual: add a new row to the periodic table.
A RECIPE FOR ELEMENT 119
A linear particle accelerator at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, accelerates a beam of ionized titanium down a 400-foot tube at more than 67 million miles per hour—10 percent of the speed of light.
For five months, the ionized titanium beam smashed into a target studded with berkelium atoms. Scientists predict that once every few billion impacts, a titanium atom, which has 22 protons, collided with the target at just the right speed and position to fuse with a berkelium atom, which has 97 protons, creating a new atom with 119 protons.
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