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If you are in middle school, chances are you have been exposed to and probably even asked to memorize the 118 elements that currently make up the periodic table. Now you may have to make room for one more - Element 115! Nicknamed Ununpentium (combination of Latin and Greek for 115) until it gets official approval and a permanent name from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, it is one of the heaviest man-made elements created thus far.
For those of you that need a refresher or are not yet privy to the mysterious periodic table, it is a tabular list of chemical elements based on their atomic numbers and a few other things. The element's atomic number is based on the number of protons it contains in its nucleus. For example, hydrogen is element number 1 because it has one proton, helium is number 2 because it has two protons and so on and so forth all the way up to uranium the heaviest natural element, which has 92!
When Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev first devised the periodic table of elements in 1869, he populated it with the fifty-nine natural elements that were known to scientists then and left room for thirty-three in anticipation of new finds. By 1939, all the boxes had been filled up. What the scientist had not accounted for however was the inclusion of man-made elements created in laboratories by researchers blasting disparate elements with each other.
115 or Ununpentium happens to be one of the man-made ones and whilst it is being touted as a new creation, it was first made in the laboratory by Russian physicists in 2003. However, the International body that sanctions the addition of new elements requires that another laboratory recreate it, before they consider it for inclusion. It took a decade, but on August 26th, scientists from Sweden's Lund University finally announced that they had successfully managed to replicate element 115.
In order to recreate it, the scientists collided element 95 - americium, an unstable radioactive man-made element with the much lighter calcium atoms for many weeks. While most of the calcium atoms bounced off, every now and again, one actually stuck to the americium element giving birth to an extremely short-lived atom that had the magic 115 protons - A new element had been born! Of course for fans of video games like Call of Duty, the discovery of the Ununpentium is stale news - The zombies with glowing eyes have been infected with this radioactive element for many years.
Given how quickly 115 and most heavier man-made elements disintegrate, an infection like that is not likely to ever occur in the real world. In fact most of these new elements are of no practical use. So why do scientists even bother creating them? Partly to challenge themselves and partly because of an ongoing race between Russian and American scientists to see who can come up with yet another element! If only they realized the extra burden it puts on students that have to memorize them!
Resources: newyorker.com, Nationalgeographic.com,dailymail.co.uk