The (Natural) World Is Not Enough? Or is it – Searching For The Island of Stability.
The old alchemists goal of turning base metals into gold is possible in today’s cyclotron albeit uneconomic. Raising the stakes by producing atoms with larger than the naturally occurring number of protons is possible and the heaviest isotope synthesized as at 2019 is flerovium-289 with 114 protons but most of these heavy human-made elements are very unstable. However, since the 1960s, scientists have hypothesized that some superheavy isotopes would have half-lives several orders of magnitude longer. This is the island of stability.
In 2019 the International Year of The Periodic Table the superheavy ‘big-game’ hunters continued attempts to make huge atoms in the search for an island of stability that mathematics suggests might exist. These hunters of extreme atoms congregate at such places as the American Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , the Russian Joint Institute for Nuclear Reasearch, Joint Institute of Nuclear Astrophysics – Center for Evolution of Elements (JINA-CEE), Japanese Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator – Based Research and the German Helmholtz Institute (https://www.superheavies.de/). These hunters deserve our respect far more than mad dentists ‘hunting’ doped, mangy lions.
Scientists think the atomic nucleus, just like an atom’s electron shell, is made up of individual shells that have different energy levels. Certain proton and neutron numbers make for a particularly stable nucleus; these are called magic numbers. A nucleus that has both a magic number of protons and neutrons is doubly magic. The nucleus of a superheavy element occurring in the island of stability is thought to resemble a slightly oblate spheroid and may contain about 130 protons. Richard Feynman suggested a nucleus with 137 protons but assumed a perfectly spherical nucleus.
The journey of science continues to push the boundaries – on the way to the impossible we might get to the eminently doable as Professor Brian Cox has suggested in the past!