New elements: ununquadium (114) and ununhexium (116)

Since it doesn’t happen very often, it’s worth noting that two more basic elements of the universe were added to mankind’s chart of such things, the periodic table of the elements. Don’t be put off by the unun, that’s just a placeholder prefix for an element admitted to the periodic table of elements that doesn’t have an official name.

The Joint Working Party on the Discovery of Elements has studied evidence accumulated by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S. since 2004 from particles observed after smashing calcium nuclei (20 protons) into curium nuclei (96 protons), which produced an element with 116 protons (ununhexium) that immediately decayed into an element with 114 protons (ununquadium).

These two particular elements (pun intended) don’t stick around long, just a few femtoseconds, and so far scientists aren’t able to detect anything ‘useful’ but this kind of smashing success moves particle physics down the road toward understanding the behavior of the atomic nucleus. Also down the road, around element 120 (if it can be produced), physicists predict that an ‘island of stability’ will be reached where the newly constructed elements might persist long enough to be useful.

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