Element 115 approaching confirmation nearly ten years after its discovery

Scientists are one step closer to confirming the super-heavy Element 115.

Element 115, temporarily titled Ununpentium. (Credit: Greg Robson)

A Swedish team of scientists recent conducted experiments on Element 115 at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. An element’s atomic number, 115 in this case, represents the number of protons an element contains. For this study, LiveScience explains that the research team “shot a super-fast beam of calcium (which has 20 protons) at a thin film of americium, the element with 95 protons. When these atomic nuclei collided, some fused together to create short-lived atoms with 115 protons.”

This new research was led by Dirk Rudolph, a professor at the division of atomic physics at Lund University. He explains that, although scientists from the Glenn T. Seaborg Institute and the Chemical Biology and Nuclear Science Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced the discovery of Element 115 in 2004, it has yet to be officially acknowledged because independent confirmation is required to measure the exact proton number. Rudolph and his team’s recent experiments did that.

An illustration of the atom collision creating Element 115. (Credit: Thomas Tegge, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
The next step, as the BBC explains, is for the potential new element to be “reviewed by a committee which consists of members of the international unions of pure and applied physics and chemistry. They will decide whether to recommend further experiments before the discovery of the new element is acknowledged.”

Element 115 received attention in 1989 when Area 51 whistleblower Bob Lazar asserted that extraterrestrial spacecraft at Area 51’s S4 facility were powered by the element. KLAS-TV investigative reporter George Knapp published a story following the discovery of Element 115 in 2004. In the article, Knapp spoke with Lazar about the 2004 discovery, something to which Knapp referred as “a profound development.”

Bob Lazar
But he pointed out that “the material decayed almost instantly.” Then Knapp reported, “Lazar says the first batch was only a starting point and that he will be proven right in the long run.” Lazar explained, “I’d like to see them continue to work and produce different isotopes of 115 because they’re gonna come up with a handful of different varieties and they’re gonna come up with a stable isotope, and that’s what we’re interested.” But based on the new experiments, that hasn’t happened yet. The element still only lasts for less than a second.

Nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg proposed the possibility of an “island of stability” in the late 1960s. Explaining this concept, Popular Science describes:

Nuclear physicists hypothesize that a magic number of protons and neutrons could produce enough binding energy to counteract the forces that tear apart the heavy nuclei, and render the new elements as stable as the common elements that exist outside of atom smashers. The physicists called these magic numbers the “island of stability” because the elements with the numbers cluster together on the periodic table, flanked on all sides by ephemeral elements that dissipate in nanoseconds.

Unfortunately, due to its rapid decay, Element 115, like its neighboring Element 114, doesn’t seem to occupy the “island of stability.”

Watch Island of Stability on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.

LiveScience explains that Element 115 has yet to be officially named, “but it is temporarily called ununpentium, roughly based on the Latin and Greek words for the digits in its atomic number, 115.”

The new research will be published in The Physical Review Letters.

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