The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially approved new names for elements 114 and 116, the latest heavy elements to be added to the periodic table, on May 31, 2012. See IUPAC news item.

Scientists of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)-Dubna collaboration proposed the names as Flerovium for element 114, with the symbol Fl, and Livermorium for element 116, with the symbol Lv, late last year.

Flerovium (atomic symbol Fl) was chosen to honor Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, where superheavy elements, including element 114, were synthesized. Georgiy N. Flerov (1913-1990) was a renowned physicist who discovered the spontaneous fission of uranium and was a pioneer in heavy-ion physics. He is the founder of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. In 1991, the laboratory was named after Flerov -- Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (FLNR).

Livermorium (atomic symbol Lv) was chosen to honor Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the city of Livermore, Calif. A group of researchers from the Laboratory, along with scientists at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, participated in the work carried out in Dubna on the synthesis of superheavy elements, including element 116. (Lawrencium -- Element 103 -- was already named for LLNL's founder E.O. Lawrence.)

The IUPAC states Livermorium was chosen because over the years scientists at Livermore have been involved in many areas of nuclear science: the investigation of fission properties of the heaviest elements, including the discovery of bimodal fission, and the study of prompt gamma-rays emitted from fission fragments following fission; the investigation of isomers and isomeric levels in many nuclei; and the investigation of the chemical properties of the heaviest elements.

"These names honor not only the individual contributions of scientists from these laboratories to the fields of nuclear science, heavy element research, and superheavy element research, but also the phenomenal cooperation and collaboration that has occurred between scientists in these two countries," said Bill Goldstein, associate director of LLNL's Physical and Life Sciences Directorate.

Scientists at LLNL have been involved in heavy element research since the Laboratory's inception in 1952 and have been collaborators in the discovery of six elements -- 113,114,115,116,117 and 118.

Livermore also has been at the forefront of investigations into other areas related to nuclear science such as cross-section measurements, nuclear theory, radiochemical diagnostics, separations chemistry including rapid automated aqueous separations, actinide chemistry, heavy-element target fabrication and nuclear forensics.

The creation of elements 116 and 114 involved smashing calcium ions (with 20 protons each) into a curium target (96 protons) to create element 116. Element 116 decayed almost immediately into element 114. The scientists also created element 114 separately by replacing curium with a plutonium target (94 protons).

The creation of elements 114 and 116 generate hope that the team is on its way to the "island of stability," an area of the periodic table in which new heavy elements would be stable or last long enough for applications to be found.

The official names will be published in the July issue of the IUPAC journal, Pure and Applied Chemistry.

The process of discovery and naming of an element is a long one. Experiments first glimpsed element 114 in 1998 and element 116 in 2001, with continuing experiments satisfying the discovery criteria in 2004 and 2006, and confirmatory experiments by other laboratories in 2007 – 2010.

The collaboration is led by Dr. Yuri Ts. Oganessian. The participants in these experiments include:

Dubna: Yu.Ts. Oganessian, V.K. Utyonkov, F.Sh. Abdullin, A.N. Polyakov, I.V. Shirokovsky, Yu.S. Tsyganov, R.N. Sagaidak, G.G. Gulbekian, S.L Bogomolov, B.N. Gikal, A.N. Mezentsev, V.G. Subbotin, A.M. Sukhov, A.A. Voinov, K. Subotic, G.K. Vostokin, M.G. Itkis, V.I. Zagrebaev, R.I. Il’kaev, S.P. Vesnovskii

LLNL: K.J. Moody, D.A. Shaughnessy, M.A. Stoyer, J.M. Kenneally, C.A. Gregorich, J.H. Landrum, R.W. Lougheed, J.B. Patin, N.J. Stoyer, J.F. Wild, and P.A. Wilk

Photo of Dr. Yuri Ts. Oganessian   Dr. Yuri Ts. Oganessian discussing heavy element synthesis in the lab.
Photo of Super Heavy Element Group   LLNL Super Heavy Element group members [2010] include (left to right): Roger Henderson, Ken Moody, Mark Stoyer, Philip Wilk, Sarah Nelson, Julie Gostic and Dawn Shaughnessy.

Video—The Periodic Table of Videos University of Nottingham 

Periodic Table with Proposed Names for Elements 114 and 116 (PDF download)

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About Superheavy Elements

What is a heavy element?
What is a superheavy element?
What is an atomic number?
What are isotopes?
How are new elements discovered?
What is a cyclotron?
What are some properties of artificially made elements?
What is the "island of stability"?
What is the "sea of instability"?
Why is discovering new superheavy elements important?
How can superheavy elements be used?
How long did it take to discover elements 113 and 115?
Why are the superheavy-element experiments conducted in Russia?
What special equipment is needed to discover superheavy elements?
When will the elements be named?
Why these names for elements 114 and 116?

1. What is a heavy element?

A heavy element is an element with an atomic number greater than 92. The first heavy element is neptunium (Np), which has an atomic number of 93. Some heavy elements are produced in reactors, and some are produced artificially in cyclotron experiments.

2. What is a superheavy element?

The definition of superheavy elements (SHE) varies among different groups of people. We use the term term SHE to refer to those elements with an atomic number greater than or equal to 112. The first superheavy element is element 113, which has been recently discovered by a collaboration of scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Russia. Like some of the heavy elements, superheavy elements are produced artificially in cyclotron experiments.

3. What is an atomic number?

The atomic number refers to the number of protons in an element’s nucleus. Each element has a unique atomic number and is known by that number until it receives an official name. For example, the two new superheavy elements 114 and 116 have 114 and 116 protons, respectively, in their nuclei.

4. What are isotopes?

Elements are defined by their atomic numbers or number of protons in the nucleus. Elements, however, have more than one isotope. An isotope contains varying numbers of neutrons in the nucleus. Gold, for example, has one stable isotope often denoted as 197/79 Au. It has an atomic number of 79 (meaning 79 protons in the nucleus) and a mass number of 197, or the total number of neutrons and protons in the nucleus. Thus, there are 197 – 79 = 118 neutrons in this isotope. However, more than 30 isotopes of gold are known. Each isotope has its own decay characteristics and half-life. For example, 198/79 Au, an isotope with one more neutron (119) that the stable isotope 197/79 Au, has a half-life of 2.7 days and decays by beta-decay. A very different gold isotope, 172/79 Au , has a half-life of 5 ms and decays by alpha-decay.

5. How are new elements discovered?

Several experimental techniques have been used to make new chemical elements. Some of these include heavy ion transfer reactions, cold or hot fusion evaporation reactions, neutron capture reactions, light-ion charged particle induced reactions, and even nuclear explosions. These techniques each have advantages and disadvantages making them suitable for studying nuclei in certain regions.

The types of nuclear reactions that have been successfully used to produce new elements in the last decade are cold fusion reactions and hot fusion reactions. Cold fusion reactions use beam and target nuclei that are closer to each other in mass in order to produce a compound nucleus (the complete fusion of one target nucleus with one beam nucleus) with generally lower excitation energy that typically requires evaporation of one or no neutrons. This generates fewer neutron-rich isotopes of an element that have higher survival probabilities with respect to fission, but have lower fusion probabilities. An example of this type of reaction is 70Zn + 208Pb → 277112 + 1n with a cross-section of ~1 picobarn.

Because the 112 isotope ultimately decays by α emission to known nuclei [namely isotopes of elements 102 (No) and 104 (Rf)], identification of this element is straightforward. Hot fusion reactions use more asymmetric beam and target nuclei, produce a compound nucleus with generally higher excitation energy that typically requires evaporation of three to five neutrons, generate more neutron-rich isotopes of an element, have lower survival probabilities with respect to fission, but have higher fusion probabilities. An example of this type of reaction is 48Ca + 244Pu → 288114 + 4n with a cross-section of ~1 pb. Because of the neutron-richness of this isotope of element 114, it never subsequently decays to any known isotope, and thus its identification is more problematic. Cold fusion reactions have been successful in producing elements 104—112 and hot fusion reactions have recently provided evidence for elements 113—118.

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Photo of U400 cyclotron
U400 cyclotron in Dubna, Russia

6. What is a cyclotron?

A cyclotron is a particle accelerator that boosts ions to very high velocities through a series of small kicks as the ions travel in a circular motion (or spiral). The cyclotron was invented at the University of California, Berkeley, by Ernest O. Lawrence , the namesake of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

7. What are some properties of artificially made isotopes?

Isotopes of various elements that are created artificially in accelerator experiments are unstable and radioactive. Once produced, these new isotopes begin to decay; that is, change into another isotope. The time required for half of an isotope’s atoms to decay is called the isotope’s half-life. As the atomic number of each new heavy element increases, the half-life typically decreases, meaning that new elements tend to decay more quickly. However, physicists in the 1960s predicted that this trend toward shorter half-lives would change around element 114. They thought that some elements around element 114 would have longer half-lives, forming an “island of stability” in the midst of a “sea” of highly unstable elements.

8. What is the “island of stability”?

The "island of stability" refers to a predicted region of superheavy elements on the chart of nuclides with half-lives that are longer by several orders of magnitude than the half-lives of other superheavy elements. Half-lives for elements in the island of stability may range from seconds to minutes, while half-lives for other superheavy elements may be measured in micro- or nanoseconds. The existence of the island of stability was shown in 1998 with the discovery of the superheavy element 114. The island of stability is a specific subset of the superheavy elements, which is characterized by nuclei that have a spherical shape.

Island of Stability
Select the image to see a larger jpg version.

9. What is the “sea of instability”?

The "sea of instability" refers to a region of elements on the periodic table that are highly unstable. These elements have extremely short half-lives that may be measured in micro- or nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is the time it takes for light to travel one foot.) This region of unstable elements surrounds the island of stability.

10. Why is discovering new superheavy elements important?

Discovering new superheavy elements proves long-held nuclear theories regarding the existence of the “island of stability” and the ultimate limits of the periodic table of the elements. These discoveries also help scientists to better understand how nuclei are held together and how they resist the fission process. The skills that are acquired by conducting these heavy-element experiments can then be applied to solving national needs like stockpile stewardship and homeland security. For example, an improved understanding of the fission process will enable scientists to enhance the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and nuclear reactors.

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11. How can superheavy elements be used?

Like most scientific discoveries, researchers do not yet know the immediate practical applications of the discovery of elements 114 and 116. Previously discovered heavy elements are used in smoke detectors (americium), neutron radiography and neutron interrogation (curium and californium), and nuclear weapons (plutonium). Scientists expect that practical applications of elements 114 and 116 also exist and will be discovered in the future.

12. How long did it take to discover elements 113, 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118?

13. Why are the superheavy-element experiments conducted in Russia?

We collaborate with our Russian colleagues because we share a similar passion for the study of heavy elements, and we bring complementary skills and resources to the solution of magnificent problems such as the confirmation of the existence of the "Island of Stability" and the characterization of the chemical properties of exotic elements. This collaboration has been very fruitful and stimulating—enabling each group to achieve more in a shorter period of time. This equipment is operated by the highly trained scientific staff at the Dubna laboratory.

14. What special equipment is needed to discover superheavy elements?

There are three pieces of special equipment: (1) a cyclotron, which produces the intense beams of calcium-48 ions used to produce the superheavy elements; (2) a separator that separates the atoms of interest from everything else produced in these reactions; and (3) a detection system that can observe and record all of the events that take place during the experiment.

15. When will the elements be named?

We don't know when the elements will be named. The naming of new elements is a long process governed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Any discovery of new elements must first be confirmed by an independent laboratory and established beyond a reasonable doubt. Afterwards, the research team that discovered the element is asked to propose a name and symbol for the element. The proposed name is then reviewed by a panel of experts and, if all goes well, finally approved by the IUPAC. This naming process can take many years. For example, element 110 was discovered in 1995 and received its name, darmstadtium (Ds), in 2003, while element 106 was discovered in 1974 but was not officially named as seaborgium (Sg) until 1997. Until elements 113 and 115 receive their official names, they will be known by their temporary IUPAC names: ununtrium (Uut) for element 113 and ununpentium (Uup) for element 115.

16. Why these names for elements 114 and 116?

Element with atomic number 114 Flerovium (Fl) is proposed to be named in honor of Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions where the superheavy elements including element 114 were synthesized. Georgiy N. Flerov (1913 – 1990) – is a renowned scientist, physicist, author of the discovery of the spontaneous fission of uranium (1940, with Konstantin A. Petrzhak), pioneer in heavy-ion physics; founder in the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research the Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (1957) that since 1991 is named after G.N. Flerov. Professor G.N. Flerov is known also for his fundamental works in various fields of physics that resulted in discovery of the new phenomena in properties and interactions of the atomic nuclei; playing of key role in establishment and development of the many areas of further research.

Element with atomic number 116 Livermorium (Lv) The name was chosen to honor Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL, established in1952) located in the town of Livermore, California, United States of America. A group of researchers from this laboratory, along with the heavy element research group of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (FLNR), participated in the work carried out in Dubna on the synthesis of superheavy elements, including element 116.

Related Web Pages

Contact: Dawn Shaughnessy [bio], 925-422-9574, shaughnessy2@llnl.gov

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