2010 Science News of the Year: Matter & Energy

Approaching the island of stability
Smashing together the elements calcium-48, with 20 protons, and berkelium-249, with 97, has produced superheavy atoms containing 117 protons, albeit for a tiny sliver of a second (SN: 4/24/10, p. 15). Temporarily known as ununseptium, the new element fills an empty spot in the periodic table between the previously discovered elements 116 and 118.

Down at spot 112 on the periodic table, an element first produced in 1996 by German scientists now has a name: copernicium, for the 16th century astronomer Copernicus (SN: 3/27/10, p. 13).

There are also six new isotopes of existing heavy elements, produced as researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California monitored the radioactive decay of element 114 (SN: 11/20/10, p. 12). While not as dramatic as an entirely new element, new isotopes such as these help illuminate how matter behaves when lots of protons and neutrons get squished into a single atomic nucleus. Many researchers think that if they can make elements heavy enough, perhaps with 120 protons or more, the atoms will be relatively stable and stick around on an “island of stability” for several seconds instead of decaying away immediately (SN: 6/5/10, p. 26).

Photons lassoed Physicists set a new record for quantum entanglement by linking five light particles that exist in two states at once, a property called superposition (SN Online: 5/15/10).

Calculating nature For the first time, a quantum computer predicts the behavior of a hydrogen molecule (SN Online: 1/22/10). 

Microchill A new model shows how physicists could construct the world’s smallest fridge out of microscopic particles (SN: 9/25/10, p. 11). 

Same rules apply Physicists demonstrate quantum properties in objects big enough to see, linking the physics of the ultrasmall to the everyday world (SN: 4/10/10, p. 10).

String theory tangled Stringy math helps describe the quantum property known as entanglement (SN: 9/25/10, p. 11).

Everyday relativity Two tabletop experiments demonstrate the time-warping effects of relativity at the human scale (SN: 10/23/10, p. 10).

Gravity reconsidered Entropy and information may be crucial concepts for explaining why what goes up must come down (SN: 9/25/10, p. 26).

Quantum lemonade Physicists harness forces that usually destroy quantum connections to entangle isolated globs of atoms (SN Online: 6/29/10).

Weakest strength A blob of cold beryllium atoms measures the smallest force yet — a 174-yoctonewton tug by an electric field (SN: 5/22/10, p. 11).

Triple play Adding a third slit to the famous double-slit experiment (right) confirms a basic axiom of quantum mechanics: More slits don’t make for more interference (SN: 8/14/10, p. 12).

Free fall Physicists drop a cloud of supercold atoms down a 120-meter-tall elevator shaft, an experiment that may lead to new insights about gravity (SN: 7/17/10, p. 16).

Feline fluid dynamics Experiments and high-speed photo­graphy reveal that cats drink by pulling up columns of liquid with their tongues, finely balancing inertia and gravity (SN: 12/4/10, p. 5).