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Element 110 to be named tomorrow

Chemists meet in Ottawa to vote on 'darmstadtium'.
15 August 2003

PHILIP BALL 


Researchers fused lead and nickel nuclei to make element 110.
© GSI

Chemical element 110, which was discovered in 1994, will finally get a name tomorrow. 

A committee will vote at this weekend's General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in Ottawa, Canada. It is expected to approve the element's informal moniker, 'darmstadtium', and give it the chemical symbol Ds. The title honours the Laboratory for Heavy Ion Research (called GSI) in Darmstadt, Germany, where the substance was first made.

The natural elements run out at number 92, uranium. Several more have been made artificially since 1939, when researchers at the University of California at Berkeley bombarded uranium with a beam of neutrons to create element 93, which they called neptunium.

Firing subatomic particles at heavy atoms became the preferred method of making new elements. The basic aim is to add more protons to the atomic nuclei - an element is defined by the number of protons its atoms contain. Some new elements were also detected in the fallout from nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.

Element-making soon became a race. In the 1960s and 1970s the two main players were a Soviet group at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna and a team spanning the University of California and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The discoverers of a new element generally win the right to name it, although the new name still has to receive IUPAC approval.


The natural elements run out around
number 92

But disputes over claimed sightings of new elements have led to acrimonious and nationalistic battles over naming. These elements decay quickly, and are often made only a few atoms at a time - so it can be hard to gather convincing evidence.

In 1987 IUPAC was forced to assess priority claims over all the new elements from 104 to 107. Then in 1993 a new controversy erupted when the Berkeley team wanted to name element 106 after nuclear-chemistry pioneer Glenn Seaborg. IUPAC insisted at first that 'seaborgium' broke the rules, because Seaborg was still alive at that time. It relented only after the American Chemical Society threatened rebellion.

No one disputes GSI's claim to element 110. There was, however, some relief when the German results, produced by fusing lead and nickel nuclei, were confirmed last June at Berkeley using the same process1. Element-hunters have been more cautious since a Berkeley team was forced to retract unreproducible data published in support of a reported 1999 creation of element 118.

References
  1. Ginter, T. N. et al. Confirmation of production of element 110 by the 208Pb(64Ni, n) reaction. Physical Review C67, 064609, (2003). |Article| 

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003
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