Nuclear physicists have invested huge effort in creating superheavy elements, which consist of enough neutrons to provide enhanced stability from nuclear decay. For the past 30 years, experiments have been marching towards this “island of stability” with a new elemental discovery every 2 to 3years. Part of the discovery process includes the confirmation by an independent experimental collaboration—it is only at this point that an element obtains its official status.
An international team using an intense 48Ca beam provided by GSI research facility in Darmstadt, Germany, and a target material of radioactive 249Bk supplied by Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee has produced two atoms of the superheavy element with atomic number Z=117, confirming the initial observation published in 9 April 2010. In the process, a new isotope 266Lr was discovered from the previously unknown alpha-decay branch of 270Db. With a half-life of 1 hour, 270Db is the longest-lived alpha emitter having an atomic number, Z, greater than 102.
The experiment is a tour de force in superheavy element research and required a detailed reconstruction of a seven-step alpha-decay chain followed by the spontaneous fission of the newly discovered 266Lr. The difficulty stems from the large variation in decay lifetimes along the alpha chain. The discovery was made feasible by the use of TASCA, a gas-filled recoil separator specifically designed for a high selectivity of superheavy or transactinide elements.
Elements beyond atomic number 104 are referred to as superheavy elements. The most long-lived ones are expected to be situated on a so-called 'island of stability', where nuclei with extremely long half-lives should be found. Although superheavy elements have not been found in nature, they can be produced by accelerating beams of nuclei and shooting them at the heaviest possible target nuclei. Fusion of two nuclei – a very rare event – occasionally produces a superheavy element. Those currently accessible generally only exist for a short time. Initial reports about the discovery of an element with atomic number 117 were released in 2010 from a Russia-U.S. collaboration working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia.
The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
Read about the creation of Element 117 here: http://www.businessinsider.my/experiments-confirm-new-element-117-2014-5/