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For decades, nuclear physicists from all across the globe have blaster record-breaking superheavy elements into existence, well extending the periodic table further and further from the once heaviest natural elements--uranium. 

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(Photo: Photo by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels)

Superheavy elements tend to be highly unstable compared to other elements. However, theory predicts that researchers have long awaited the 'magic numbers' of protons and neutron that grant stability and finding long-lived superheavy elements.

The Superheavy Flerovium

The superheavy transactinide element Flerovium, with atomic number 114, was first created in 1998 by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Russia. Only in 2011 was it officially recognized by IUPAC through multiple syntheses of the superheavy element.

Today, researchers report that the element is no more stable than the superheavy element near the periodic table of elements. Contrary to earlier belief, the element's 114 magic number isn't magic or at least isn't as magical as scientists classically predicted, says lead author Dirk Rudolph from Lund University.

The results focused attention on the next candidate for a magic number of protons--element 120. Although never being synthesized before, element 120 is the Superheavy Element Factory goal, a brand new Russian facility that began its first experiment in November 2020.

Researchers from the facility have already made 60 atoms of moscovium, element 115, by firing ionic beams on to a thin layer of the target material.

On the other hand, the search for element 120 is temporarily on hold until scientists obtain more californium--a rare element produced in high-flux nuclear reactors required to produce 120's target.

Yuri Oganessian of JINR says, "A limited amount of target material poses technical problems that we need to solve in the near future. 

Oganessian is the namesake of element 118, oganesson first discovered in 2004 by his team at JINR that is currently the heaviest ever made.


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The Theory of Nuclei Stability

Theorists believe that protons and neutrons residing in a "shell" similar to the orbital shells of electrons revolve around the nucleus in each element in Chemistry. Similar to how a full electron shell makes an element chemically inert noble gas, full shells of protons or neutrons offer extra stability and longer lives.

Nuclei with full shells of both neutrons and protons like helium-4, Oxygen-16, and lead-208 are known as 'doubly magic' nuclei that are the most stable natural isotopes.

On the other hand, theories only approximate the magic numbers of superheavy elements. 

In 1998, Oganessian's team produced a solitary nucleus of element 114 for the first time. Things seemed promising for a magic shell of 114 protons. The atoms survived for more than 30 seconds, which converts into eternity for superheavy elements. However, the long life was never successfully replicated. Most of the half-dozen confirmed isotopes of flerovium were not able to survive more than a second.

Researchers created 11 atoms of flerovium-288 and two atoms of flerovium-285, findings were published in the Physical Review Letters. The team identified decay paths, including a never before seen path of nuclei, that isn't present in other stable nuclei with full shells.

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