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Friday, Oct. 5, 2012

Riken eyes superheavy elements


The Riken research institute has set its sights on synthesizing the 119th and 120th atomic elements, a feat no one has accomplished to date, according to one of its researchers.

The superheavy elements would be the first to occupy the currently blank eighth period of the periodic table, said Kosuke Morita of Riken's Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science.

The government-backed Riken recently succeeded in synthesizing the yet-to-be-named 113th element by fusing the atomic nuclei of zinc, the 30th element, and bismuth, the 83rd, through a high-speed collision in a particle accelerator.

The institute plans to fuse the nuclei of vanadium, the 23rd element, and curium, the 96th, to obtain element 119, as well as those of chromium, the 24th, and curium to obtain element 120, according to Morita.

"Large nuclei tend to split easily without fusing," Morita said, explaining the difficulties involved in the search for superheavy elements.

To help ensure the experiments' success, Riken has improved its Gas-filled Recoil Ion Separator (GARIS), which is used to separate the particles of superheavy elements from other particles and byproducts of the collisions, Morita said.

Although it blasted zinc particles at bismuth layers for 553 days in total, Riken successfully created the 113th element on only three occasions. How to improve efficiency is seen as the key to synthesizing the 119th and 120th elements.

Riken's archrival in the race to be the first to name the 113th element are considered to be a team comprising researchers from a Russian institute and the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Germany's GSI research center is seen as another strong competitor.

In addition to the 113th element, the Russo-U.S. team claims to have synthesized the 115th, 117th and 118th, but their discoveries have yet to be confirmed by international academic authorities.

The heaviest element that has been confirmed to date is livermorium, the 116th element.

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