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Island of stability, you say?

PostPosted: Thu Dec 03, 2009 8:38 am
by dilessa
So after reading today's comic on Dannyhuanium, I decided to see more about element 114, and was brought to a page hyping element 114 as a stepping stone to stable heavy elements. This got the fanboy in me giggling: step one to making some illyrium, maybe? (Come on -- I can't be the only one here who's read Nova!) So how soon now until element 300?

Re: Island of stability, you say?

PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:47 am
by Gav
The dozen or so elements after uranium on the periodic table were all first made at Berkeley, but nowadays the only people who can dedicate six months of accelerator beam time just to find a few atoms of something are the folks in Dubna, Russia. The element 114 discovery at Berkeley was the first "confirmation" of what Dubna had already discovered many years ago. You need two labs to discover the same element before they'll name it.

So that said, Dubna has, alone, discovered all the way up to element 118.

In nuclear physics, there are what's called "magic numbers" of nucleons which are especially stable. These numbers are 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126. Thus, oxygen-16, which has 8 protons and 8 neutrons, is especially well-bound. Lead-208 (82 protons, 126 neutrons) is also "doubly magic" and just about everything after it gets more and more unstable (radioactive). However, it's theorized things should get *more* stable at the next magic numbers, which is what's called the "island of stability."

Nobody knows the "next" magic number past 126, or if 126 is a "good" magic number for protons. That's because at those very high masses, there are relativistic, Coloumbic, and deformation effects and such. So there are competing theories for what the next magic proton number will be. Some say it's still 126. Others say it should be 120. And yet still others say 114. And everything in between. Interestingly, we're much closer to getting the number of protons "magic," (we might already be there), but the challenge is adding more neutrons. The next neutron magic number is 184. When they made element 114 at Dubna and Berkeley, it had 172-173 neutrons. So if you can find a way to shove ten more neutrons in there, you might have yourself a chunk of unobtainium.