'Tis Here! 'Tis Gone! The Search for Heavy Elements

Michio Kaku:  Over the years, many types of unstable elements have been proposed and named after many glorious figures in the history of science, including Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for the discovery of quantum electrodynamics, which he did with two other physicists. 

Now it turns out that extremely heavy elements are also extremely unstable.  What we do is we bombard heavy ions together to give a tremendous conglomeration of protons and neutrons, which then fly apart.  And then we run the videotape backwards.  We take all the fragments, put them back together again and see whether or not, for an instant of time, a heavy element existed inside the atom smasher.  That’s a very tricky business because many kinds of false bumps can occur in the data, and one of them may actually correspond to a new form of heavy elements. 

There is a theory that says that if you bombard heavier and heavier ions together, sooner or later you get an island of stability, a plateau where we would get stable matter.  We’re quite far from achieving that, so in the short term, it means that there’s going to be more and more debate, more and more controversy as to what constitutes a heavy element given the fact that it only exists for a brief fraction of a second.  Did it or did it not even exist at all?  That’s why it took so long to verify 114 and 116.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

There is going to be more and more debate and controversy as to what constitutes a heavy element given the fact that it only exists for a brief fraction of a second. Did it or did it not even exist at all?

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