When you look at the objects that surround you, it’s easy to forget that everything is made of atoms of various elements.
Every element, from the more common ones like Carbon and Oxygen to the more obscure ones like Promethium and Europium, has its own unique properties and cannot be broken down by chemical means.
Scientists have discovered 118 different elements—both naturally occurring and man-made. Because each element has its own set of properties, scientists created a table to organize them: the periodic table of elements.
The Periodic Table
The modern version of the periodic table was first developed by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. All the elements are ordered by increasing atomic number, or the number of protons it has (a proton is a tiny, positively charged particle in all atoms). For example, since Hydrogen has one proton, it is located in the top left corner of the table. This is a useful method of organizing elements, because each element has a different number of protons.
The table is organized into periods (rows) and groups (columns). Each group contains elements with the same number of valence electrons. Electrons are tiny, negatively charged subatomic particles, and valence electrons are the electrons that determine how an atom of one element will interact with atoms of other elements. Therefore, elements in each group have different properties when it comes to chemical interactions.
Radioactive elements are unstable and emit particles of matter and light as they break down over time. Many elements, especially those that are not naturally occurring and have a large number of protons, are radioactive. This is because the larger an atomic nucleus gets, the more its protons repel one another with their positive charges, making it, in general, less stable, or more radioactive.
Thanks to technology like proton accelerators, scientists have the ability to create elements. By colliding different elements at extremely high speeds, scientists can form atoms that can arrange themselves with a new number of protons and electrons. Recently discovered elements include Element 115 and Element 113.
In 2010, researchers in the GSI Helmholtz Center For Heavy Ion Research in Germany were able to create a new element. Element 117, known temporarily as Ununseptium, is extremely unstable and decays in just 50 milliseconds. However, it can form an atomic structure, giving it the status of an element.
This super heavy element was missing from the periodic table. Once it is confirmed by a panel of scientists, all it needs is a cool new name!
Courtesy CSMonitor, Lawrence Livermore