Monday, June 27, 2016
Super-stupid physics post
So here I was in search of something I could be both snarky and informative about, without teeing anyone off. And I decided, you know, you haven't told the story of how four new chemical elements got named recently. Of course all I really knew about them were:
a) the names- Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine, and Oganesson.
b) the symbols- Nh, Mc, Ts, and Og.
c0 They managed to discover them by creating about enough to cover the hole in a gnat's butt, and what they made didn't last long enough to say the "he-" in "hey, lookit that".
So I had to go in search of what would make them undyingly fascinating. And here we go!
The smallest of the quartet, numerically speaking, is element 113, which means scientists had to construct the artificial Latin-ish name of Ununtrium (roughly meaning 113) until the powers that be decided yes, it does exist and who got to name it. It was discovered in a Japanese institute called RIKEN (which, by name, should be abbreviated KKKHRK, but somehow in translation it comes out RIKEN), so one of the early choices for the name was Rikenium, as well as Japonium, Nishenanium (after scientist Yoshio Nishina), and the winner, which is another Japanese name for Japan. Apparently, it roughly means Land-of-the-rising-sun-ium, but thankfully they found a shorter way of putting it.
They actually got a hunk of this stuff to be the longest lasting of the four- it lasted about 20 seconds before half of it went poof (aka the half-life). What really amused me here was the fact that they have calculated its melting point- well, within just under 700° (between 430-1100 degrees C); and just how you figure out something that you don't have enough of to tell if it's a solid, liquid, or gas will even melt, let alone counting dialing in a 700-degree range as an accomplishment, well, I'll let them dope that out.
This name almost went a few rounds back to element 116, but instead it got Livermorium after Lawrence Livermore. 116 really needed a name, for sure- the Latin-ish holder name they gave it was Ununhexium, which got the symbol Uuh... It was 115, aka Ununpentium (Uup) that became Moscovium in the end. The longest lived chunk of this stuff lasted 220 milliseconds half life- about the time that Google Chrome beats Internet Explorer in opening a website, I found out.
Like many of these discoveries, it was an international group of scientists working together to discover this one- but they sure did it the hard way. Russian scientists had come up with a way to make element 117 ( and like all of them, it involved smashing hunks of stuff they did have together in hopes that something new would stick together long enough to count), but to do it, they needed to get a hunk of Berkelium from the US of A. But the only place that was making the 97th element had stopped, and it was too expensive to make more just for a trial. So the next way to do the same thing involved getting ahold of some Californium. Now, Californium is made commercially in small quantities, but it is Veeeeery expensive (read $27 MILLION per gram), so they were going to wait until a commercial order was placed, because you get Berkelium as a "waste product" of making Californium.
In 2008, an oil company placed the order (apparently they can use it to detect deposits), and a small amount of the Berkelium was procured. But now, they had to get it to Russia- and they had about 300 days to do it. On top of that, it had to be cooled for 90 days, and purified for 90 more. Then the rocket scienti- excuse me, the physicists couldn't get the paperwork right- not once but twice- and the stuff crossed the Atlantic FIVE TIMES before they got it to the lab.
Naming it was another matter of pussyfooting around. But Vanderbilt University's Joseph Hamilton finally said, "I was crucial in getting the group together and in getting the 249Bk target essential for the discovery. As a result of that, I’m going to get to name the element. I can’t tell you the name, but it will bring distinction to the region". And what he came up with sounds more like he bred a new citrus fruit than discovered a chemical element, but considering the next one on the list, I guess it could have been worse.
The final member of our quartet was named after a dude critical in the stories of most of the group, one Yuri Oganessian. And being 118 on the periodic table makes Og a Noble Gas (aka like Neon, Krypton, Argon, and Xenon), which means it had to end with an -on. And that's why it becomes the element that sounds most like a sexual experience.
It was first thought to be discovered back in 2002, and was going to be named Ghiorsium after Albert Ghiorso; but on replay review it was overturned and Albert had to content himself with having created two children (none named Albert) and co-discovering every element from 95 to 106. He wouldn't have been getting a real winner: the half-life of this stuff is about the time it takes a sound wave from a word to get one foot away from your mouth.