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Elemental escape

Making superheavies may reveal island of stability

3:42pm, May 21, 2010

As nuclear physics vacation spots go, the “island of stability” sounds pretty good. But this island isn’t in the Caribbean, the Maldives or even Hawaii. It’s at the edge of the periodic table of the elements.

Reaching the island would be the culmination of decades of synthesizing artificial elements, those heavier than uranium (SN: 4/15/78, p. 236). By smashing smaller elements together, researchers have shoved more and more protons and neutrons into a single atomic nucleus. Jam-packed products that include more than 110 to 112 or so protons in each nucleus are generally called “superheavy” elements.

By studying superheavy nuclei, researchers could gain fundamental insights into the nature of matter. But all of the su

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