What's the Latest Development?
By bombarding a thin film of americium with a beam of calcium, scientists in Germany have confirmed the existence of the superheavy element ununpentium -- a temporary name meaning "one-one-five" for the 115 protons each atom contains. Like most man-made elements, this one's atoms only lasted for a few milliseconds before they began to decay, which meant the scientists used the energy signatures connected to the radiation they gave off in order to certify that the right number of protons were there. A paper describing the experiments will appear in The Physical Review Letters.
What's the Big Idea?
Of the 118 elements currently in the periodic table, 20 of them, including ununpentium, were synthesized in a lab, and they tend to be relatively unstable. However, scientists keep creating heavier elements in the hope of finding some that will occupy an "island of stability" and have some potential practical value. The German experiment confirms another experiment done in Russia in 2004, and brings ununpentium one step closer to receiving an official name from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Last year, its neighbors in the periodic table received their official names: "Ununquadium" (element 114) became flerovium, and "ununhexium" (element 116) became livermorium.
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