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New Elements

December 13, 2005

In high school chemistry, everybody learns about the periodic table of the elements. Many of them are recognizable–gold, lead, oxygen–but the tail end is full of strange laboratory creations.


Creating new elements. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Most chemical elements, like carbon and oxygen, are found in nature. But several have been created in the lab. Alice Chen in La Jolla, California, wanted to know how that’s done. One man who’s done it is radiochemist Ken Moody of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He explains that every element has a unique number of protons, or positively charged particles, in its nucleus. So to make a new element, you’ve got to slap together an unprecedented number of protons.

KEN MOODY (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory):
The only way that we found of doing that is by taking two heavy nuclei and smashing them together.

Then the atomic debris goes into a mass separator, which looks for tiny traces of new elements that may last for only a fraction of a second.

If you’ve got a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-ISIT. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.