The TransActinide Separator and Chemistry Apparatus (TASCA) at GSI Darmstadt is a highly efficient device for studying super-heavy elements. G. Otto, GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research

An international team of researchers has managed to create several atoms of a new ultra-heavy element, which is on its way to get official recognition with the atomic number 117 in the periodic table.

Elements beyond atomic number 104 are referred to as super-heavy elements, and the most- long-lived ones are expected to be situated on a so-called “island of stability.” While these elements are not found in nature, they can be produced by accelerating beams of nuclei and shooting them at the heaviest possible target nuclei. This fusion of two nuclei occasionally produces a ultra-heavy element.

“The successful experiments on element 117 are an important step on the path to the production and detection of elements situated on the 'island of stability' of super-heavy elements,” Horst Stöcker, scientific director at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, said in a statement.

Initial reports about the discovery of an element with atomic number 117 were released in 2010. However, evidence for the artificial creation of element 117 has recently been obtained at the GSI by a team of researchers, including 72 scientists and engineers from 16 institutions in Australia, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

Scientists produced the special berkelium target material, which is essential for the synthesis of the element 117, during an 18-month-long campaign. This required intense neutron irradiation at the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the U.S., followed by chemical separation and purification at ORNL's Radiochemical Engineering Development Center.

“This is an important scientific result and a compelling example of international cooperation in science, advancing super-heavy element research by leveraging the special capabilities of national laboratories in Germany and the U.S.,” ORNL Director Thom Mason said.

While the Element 117 is yet to be named, a committee comprising members of the International Unions of Pure and Applied Physics and Chemistry will review these new findings, along with the original ones, and decide whether further experiments are needed before acknowledging the element's discovery.