BONN, Germany (Reuter) - Scientists at a German research institute have added a new element to the Periodic Table -- number 112, a heavier, still unnamed relative of zinc, cadmium and mercury.
A team of German, Russian, Slovakian and Finnish physicists detected a single atom of the new metal late Feb. 9, the Society for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt announced Wednesday.
They made it by bombarding lead, element number 82, with zinc, element number 30, until a pair of atoms fused as a new substance with as many protons as the two together.
"During a span of several weeks many billions of zinc atoms had to be shot at a lead target in order to produce and detect a single atom of element 112," the institute said.
The heaviest element in nature is uranium, number 92. Nuclear physics has created series of larger ones, beginning in the 1940s.
The newest is also the latest in a string of successes for a team headed by German Peter Armbruster who were the first to create elements 107 to 111.
But element 112 will remain a nameless wonder for the time being.
"The international commission responsible for approving such names has rejected our suggestions for elements 107 to 109," institute spokesman Klaus Gross told Reuters. "So we will not be offering a proposal until those are cleared up."
The new element is so difficult to produce that it is unlikely to serve any purpose but research.
But the way it decays offers proof of a theory about how so-called "super-heavy" atoms behave.
The 30-year-old theory contends that atoms with 162 neutrons -- tiny neutral particles in the heart of an atom -- are more strongly bound together than their chemical neighbors.
"All our discoveries have been marvelous. But this one has an additional importance because it proves the theory," Gross said.
German Science Minister Juergen Ruettgers hailed the discovery as a major step forward.
"Proving the existence of element 112 provides important confirmation for theoretic nucleus structure models and may be seen as a great success in terms of nuclear physics," he said.
Armbruster, who has worked on new elements for 20 years, and his team plan to press on. But the search will not continue forever.
"According to theory, element 114 should be especially stable," Gross said. "There won't be an element 200 and there probably won't even be an element 130."
Original file name: .CNI - element 112 2.26
This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.