50 years ago, the quest for superheavy elements was just getting started

Excerpt from the September 8, 1973 issue of Science News

illustration of blue and green atoms inside the superheavy element tennessine

The superheavy element tennessine (illustrated) joined the periodic table in 2015. Created by smashing atoms in a particle accelerator, the element’s half-life is less than a second.

Kwei-Yu Chu/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

cover of the September 8, 1973 of Science News

Searching for superheaviesScience News, September 8, 1973

Physicists and chemists have been actively searching for superheavy elements, substances with atomic weights and numbers greater than the 105 [elements] now known. Results of two searches are reported … none were found…. Future searches will have to involve direct fusion of heavy nuclei by driving one against another in heavy-ion accelerators.


Particle accelerators have been crucial for creating superheavies beyond elements 104 and 105. Just a year later, element 106, seaborgium, emerged from collisions of oxygen ions and californium atoms — though its discovery wasn’t officially confirmed until two decades later (SN: 3/19/94, p. 180). Elements 107 through 118 have since made their debut, with several joining the periodic table as recently as 2016. Scientists are now trying to create elements 119 and 120 (SN: 3/2/19, p. 16). Forming heavier elements and pushing known superheavyweights to their limits could reveal insights into the forces that bind atoms together and the bizarre chemistry of the most extreme elements.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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