News FocusSuperheavy Elements

Which Way to the Island?

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Science  09 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6048, pp. 1377-1379
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6048.1377

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Theories of nuclear structure predict that certain key numbers of protons and neutrons in a nucleus, known as magic numbers, make it more stable and hence longer-lived than would normally be the case. Superheavy-element researchers call this area of the chart of nuclides, around the confluence of proton and neutron magic numbers, the island of stability. The half-lives of some of the heaviest elements made so far do show signs of increased stability, suggesting that those nuclei are on the shores of the island. Moving farther inland is an enticing prospect because the atoms we may find there could be exotic creatures indeed. But for the time being, the summit of the island's peak is out of reach because physicists haven't devised a way of making nuclei with enough neutrons.