7 April 2010
While working at Science, I had the chance to report on the creation of a never before seen element. This story had everything: way-out-there physics, an international rivalry (see the print version for that story), and impressive lab pyrotechnics. My favorite part? Staying up until 3 am so I could call the principle investigator in Russia.
It’s taken years, but physicists have finally filled in a persistent gap in the periodic table. Eight years after the creation of element 118, the heaviest known atom, researchers have made a few atoms of its slightly lighter neighbor, element 117, by shooting an intense beam of calcium ions into a target of berkelium. Besides sketching in the blank space in the table, the discovery bolsters the notion of an “island of stability,” a group of superheavy nuclei still tantalizingly out of reach that theorists predict may be as stable as more familiar elements.