A new super-heavy element whose discovery was first announced back in 2010 has been granted the provisional name “tennessine” in honor of the Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) physicists that helped discover it, officials announced on Wednesday.
Officially known as element 117, tennessine was discovered by Joseph Hamilton, a professor of physics at the university, his colleague A.V. Ramayya, and researchers at RNL, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California and the Flerov Laboratory for Nuclear Reactions (FLNR) in Russia.
“Vanderbilt worked with Oak Ridge and we wanted to come up with a name that honored the accomplishments of the state. We actually decided on the name before experiments even started.” Dr. Hamilton stated in an interview with redOrbit.
In order to create tennessine, Hamilton’s team needed to take the element berkelium, which has 97 protons, purify it, and place it in a powerful heavy ion accelerator. They bombarded it with calcium-48, an isotope containing 20 protons and 28 neutrons, over a 150 day span in what they called a series of “hot fusion” reactions. They produced six atoms of the new element, which at the time made it 26th new element to be added to the periodic table since 1940.
Now, tennessine (Ts), along with element 115– called moscovium (Mc) after the Russian capital, and element 118– dubbed oganesson (Og) in honor of FLNR researcher Yuri Oganessian – have been given their provisional names from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the Zurich, Switzerland-based organization that represents chemists globally.
Discovery provides new evidence of the theoretical “island of stability”
The scientists had initially submitted their findings to the IUPAC in 2012, but the agency stated that the evidence provided was not conclusive in regards to element 117 and requested additional data be submitted. Now, tennessine will become just the second element to be named after a US state, joining element 98, Californium, which was discovered in the 1950s.
“Formal certification of these provisional names is expected in five months,” Hamilton, who also serves as the director of the ORNL’s Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research, said in a statement Wednesday. “After this occurs, the name of the State of Tennessee will be in the periodic table in textbooks of physics and chemistry worldwide forever.”
Since element 117 is a member of the halogen chemical family, which is also comprised of the elements fluorine, chlorine and bromine, it is expected to have similar chemical properties and was given a name with an “ine” ending, the researchers explained. The experiments that led to the element’s discovery were conducted under the Oganessian’s supervision, they added.
The three new elements were created by through “hot fusion” reactions in which americium-243, berkelium-249 and californium-249 were bombarded with calcium-48, and these new elements completed the seventh row of the periodic table. More importantly, the researchers noted, their existence provides evidence for the long sought-after, theoretically predicted “island of stability” concept, which predicted that super heavy elements with much higher numbers of neutrons and protons than previously known ones would have slower rates of decay.
“The new nuclei produced in this research have substantially increased lifetimes consistent with landing on the shores of the island,” Hamilton explained. “These discoveries – evidence for the island’s existence and the new elements themselves – represent a major advance in our understanding of the behavior of nuclear matter under the extreme stress of the ultra-large electrical forces that exist between the high numbers of protons that are packed into these new nuclei.”
“It’s an honor that Tennessee will be immortalized in every physics textbook printed once the name is made official. We’re proud of that,” said Hamilton.
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