in your element The odyssey Kit Chapman explores the voyage to the discovery of element 118, the pioneer chemist it is named after, and false claims made along the way.

aving an element named after you Ninov had been dismissed from Berkeley for is incredibly rare. In fact, to be scientific misconduct in May5, and had filed Hhonoured in this manner during a grievance procedure6. your lifetime has only happened to Today, the discovery of the last element two scientists — Glenn Seaborg and of the as we know it is . Yet, on meeting Oganessian undisputed, but its structure and properties it seems fitting. A colleague of his once remain a mystery. No chemistry has been told me that when he first arrived in the performed on this radioactive giant: 294Og halls of Oganessian’s programme at the has a half-life of less than a millisecond Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) before it succumbs to α​-decay. in , Russia, it was unlike anything Theoretical models however suggest it he’d ever experienced. Forget the 2,000 ton may not conform to the . As magnets, the beam lines and the brand new a noble , you would expect oganesson being installed designed to hunt to have closed shells, ending with for elements 119 and 120, the difference a filled 7s27p6 configuration. But in 2017, a was Oganessian: “When you come to work US–New Zealand collaboration predicted for Yuri, it’s not like a lab,” he explained. that isn’t the case7. Instead the relativistic “It’s like a theatre — and he’s the director.” effects — discrepancies between expected For 60 years, with his very own blend and observed behaviours caused by of creativity, scientific skill and leadership, relativity — may result in the loss of shell Oganessian has pushed the boundaries structure. These effects are seen across the of the periodic table. Born in Rostov- periodic table, increasing as nuclei get larger. on-Don of Armenian descent, the young Oganesson seems to have reached the point Oganessian wanted to be an architect where form an evenly distributed before he joined the Engineering gas of charge. Such changes affect an Physics Institute. There, he elected to Credit: ITAR-TASS News Agency / Alamy Stock element’s properties: oganesson may well join the USSR’s element hunters under Photo. be a at room temperature, and more Georgy Flerov. He went on to pioneer reactive than its noble family as the electrons the ‘’ technique, which would in its p orbitals can be removed more easily. to elements 107–113, and the ‘hot of 48Ca, but 28% of the target had decayed If the models hold true, it could be the fusion’ reactions with the -rich into 249Cf, thereby producing element end of periodicity as we know it: a turning 48Ca that would give the world 118 instead2. point at the join of chemistry and physics. and beyond. A large part of modern An earlier claim3 for element 118 had Just like its maverick father, oganesson could is about partnerships; Oganessian come not from Russia, but the Lawrence be very interesting indeed. ❐ builds and cultivates them with warmth, Berkeley National Laboratory, in 1999. insight and insatiable scientific curiosity. Soon after the death of Glenn Seaborg, Kit Chapman The element that bears his name, who had led or taken part in the discovery Comment Editor at Chemistry World. oganesson, is similarly unique. It was first of ten elements including plutonium, three Twitter: @ChemistryKit produced in 2002, firing 48Ca at a 249Cf decay chains were reported, products of a e-mail: [email protected] target, by Oganessian’s team from JINR beam into a lead target. It somewhat and colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore seemed too good to be true. Published online: 21 June 2018 National Laboratory, US1. There is currently It was. Other groups around the world, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-018-0098-4 only one known , 294Og, made in along with the Berkeley team itself, were reactions so rare that it took ten years to unable to reproduce these decay chains — References obtain four confirmed . The fourth prompting the Berkeley team to reanalyse 1. Oganessian Y. et al. JINR Commun. https://doi. org/10.2172/15007307 (2002). in particular was a lucky discovery: it came the original data. When evidence of the 2. Karol, P. J. et al. Pure Appl. Chem. 88, 155–160 (2015). from an attempt to make element 117 by chains couldn’t be found, the article was 3. Ninov, V. et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 83, 1104–1107 (1999). bombarding a 249Bk target with a beam retracted4 by all authors except for Victor 4. Ninov, V. et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 89, 039901 (2002). 5. Johnson, G. At Lawrence Berkeley, physicists say a colleague took Ninov, the first author, who had been in them for a ride. New York Times (15 October 2002). charge of analysing the raw data. By the 6. Schwarzschild, B. Phys. Today 55, 15–17 (2002). time the retraction appeared, in July 2002, 7. Jerabek, P. et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 120, 053001 (2018). Mc Lv Ts Og 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130131 132 133134 135

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