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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Does 117 complete the periodic table?

Big news
 
"element 117, the last holdout in the last row of the periodic table. An international team of physicists reports that it has produced the element – fleetingly – in an atom smasher in Russia."
That's from http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0407/Get-out-the-periodic-table-kids!-There-s-a-new-element-117?sp_rid=NTI5OTY1Mzg0OQS2&sp_mid=4403988  I don't remember hearing about this in NPR, or reading about it in WSJ or NYT.  Maybe it was in there and I missed it.
To me, this is stunningly exciting news, on par with the closing of the American frontier after the US Census in 1890, but much more definitive -- last element in the last row.

Maybe bigger news

Are there other rows? The same group of scientists thinks they might have a strategy for finding elements 119 and 120.
Farther out, is there an island of stability -- an area of the periodic table in which elements achieve stability and last for more than a few millionths of a second.
Like most questions in science, there are more questions remaining. But 117 creates a full symmetry in the table that was always meant to contain and explain those symmetries, and it is a major chemical and physical accomplishment.