Scientists in Germany have revealed the discovery of a new superheavy chemical element that they are tentatively calling ununbium, until an official body approves a permanent name.
Physicists at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, in Darmstadt, announced yesterday that they had produced an element with the atomic number 112 in experiments going back many years.
Although their research first produced atoms of element 112, by their reckoning, in 1996, it would take years for their results to be confirmed by fellow physicists in Japan and other nations. That confirmation culminated this week in a letter from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) that recognized the discovery of a new element. By right of discovery, the Helmholtz Center team, led by principal investigator Sigurd Hofmann, will have the privilege of naming the new element, which they are calling ununbium for now, after the Latin word for 112.
According to the GSI Helmholtz Center, Hofmann's team produced atoms of ununbium by shooting zinc ions through a 120-meter-long particle accelerator at a lead target. Smashing the two stable elements together fused some of their nuclei for very brief periods of time, but long enough to form atoms with their combined atomic numbers, or the number of protons in a nucleus, of zinc with 30 and lead with 82. The new element is so radioactively unstable, however, that it disintegrates quickly into charged particles and lighter atoms.
The officially confirmed discovery marks the sixth time over the last 28 years that scientists at the GSI Helmholtz Center have created new elements in their laboratories: element 107 is called bohrium, element 108 hassium, element 109 meitnerium, element 110 darmstadtium, and element 111 roentgenium.
"We are delighted that now the sixth element -- and thus all of the elements discovered at GSI during the past 30 years -- has been officially recognized," Hofmann said yesterday. "During the next few weeks, the scientists of the discovering team will deliberate on a name for the new element."