books & arts How heavy will we get?

Superheavy: Making (). Superheavy manages to for example, through (115), and Breaking the precisely describe the intricate physical (116) or (117). phenomena at play, all the while rendering a It is difficult enough to explain the deep and mesmerizing sense of excitement at discovery and implications of each element the idea of crafting ’s building blocks. of the period table to chemistry, Equally captivating is the essential role and engineering students. Chapman By Kit Chapman of the geopolitical context that defined how accomplished no small feat with this page each new tile of the periodic table was filled. turner; it provides a fascinating insight into In his quest to capture the essence of element the motivations and challenges of heavy- creation, Chapman takes us on a worldwide element science that should appeal to anyone BLOOMSBURY SIGMA: journey, from the first American secrets of with even a small interest in understanding 2019. 304 PP. £16.99 the atomic bomb to the fall of the U.S.S.R., how scientific innovations shape our world. and illustrates perfectly how historical events Discovering new elements is not merely onsidered the 150th anniversary of influenced the erecting of the large US about glory; as Chapman rightly states, the discovery of the periodic system, National Laboratory network or the ever- “every unlocks a little more of the C2019 was proclaimed the International growing accelerator facilities in Sweden, universe or creates options for saving lives Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Germany, Japan and Russia that have been through medical or cleaner energy.” Elements by the United Nations General instrumental in heavy-element research. In brief, Chapman did get it right, and Assembly and UNESCO. As many of us Beyond that, as the book progresses, we paid a brilliant tribute to all those who have been celebrating ‘#IYPT2019’, as it is become increasingly enthralled with the have participated in the constant filling and known on social media, it may be all too social dynamics created between scientists arranging of that part of the periodic table easy to lose sight of the arduous and ever- by war and politics — which sometimes over the years. Despite a few omitted names, evolving process that populated the chemical came in the way of scientific discovery. This the reader will be introduced to a long and chart over the years. It could therefore not is best exemplified by a quote from Andrey accurate list of scientists that have followed in be timelier to follow Kit Chapman into the Popeko, from the Joint Institute for Nuclear the footsteps of pioneers such as , realm of ‘making and breaking the periodic Research in Russia: “If the Americans , Glenn Seaborg, Al Ghiorso, table’ as it stands today. Not just that dreamed discovered something, our first task was to Georgy Flerov and . And and organized by in 1869, show it couldn’t work at all. If we discovered I can’t help but wonder if the next element but the rather elaborate table now composed something, the Americans did the same.” will be named after one of the many women of the 118 elements known to humankind. The continuous oscillation between who are now among the bearers of the field, Superheavy is a tale of extreme science in competition and comradery that we witness Darlene Hoffman, Dawn Shaughnessy, Jacklyn the twentieth and twenty-first centuries throughout the book still persists today in Gates, Julie Ezold, Rose Boll, Clarice Phelps or that guides us through the discovery of the science and engineering — the competitive Nancy Stoyer, to mention a few. Superheavy transuranium elements — those beyond aspect sometimes exacerbated by diminished element research seems to be in good hands, element 92 — one at a time. resources, dwindling support from different and is the posterchild of successful scientific From the bombardment of governments, and the incessant pressure endeavours that rely on diverse teams, large with deuterons to produce elements 93 to claim breakthroughs and ‘publish’ first. infrastructure and international collaborations. () and 94 () at the And although this was a rather extreme Superheavy may well become a staple on onset of the Second World War, through to situation, my guess is that many scientists everyone’s bookshelf; it has certainly found the contemporary challenges of procuring will experience some kind of familiarity its place on mine, between Paulo Coehlo’s enough plutonium or berkelium to synthesize when reading about the ‘transfermium wars’ Alchemist and Primo Levi’s Periodic Table. the much heavier elements 114 () — a fierce, decades-long controversy centred I am left longing for the next discovery and or 117 (tennessinne), respectively, Chapman around the discovery of elements 102–109. maybe, just maybe… the thought that we may regales us with a crisp and technical account Nevertheless, the reciprocal admiration reach the in my lifetime. of the creation and characterization of these among colleagues experienced by the Who will be leading the race for element 119 ephemeral . The level of scientific protagonists of Superheavy, and their pride at and beyond in the twenty-first century? How detail throughout the book will please nuclear being part of a group that advances science many more elements will we find? Will we physicists and (trans) chemists alike, in such a fundamental manner, are palpable. need to wait another 80 years or so to gather but will also not deter the novice. I imagined As well as the first discovery of all the enough material for a sequel? ❐ myself running alongside Enrico Fermi and his transuranium elements, the book relates other students in the dark corridors of an old Roman quirky moments of superheavy synthesis. Reviewed by Rebecca J. Abergel1,2 university building to beat the fast decay of One such episode is when Glenn Seaborg’s 1Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of short-lived generated by homemade team accomplished in the early 1980s the old California, Berkeley, CA, USA. 2Chemical Sciences beams. I held my breath at the alchemist’s dream of turning bismuth into Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, exhilarating thought of Al Ghiorso and Greg gold, using carbon and neon beams. What Berkeley, CA, USA. Choppin, racing through the tortuous hills of Chapman also achieves particularly well is e-mail: [email protected] Berkeley from the University of California’s to convey how elements got their names — to its chemistry laboratories increasingly, not only after recognized leaders Published online: 22 November 2019 to analyse the first traces of element 101 in the field but also entire communities, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-019-0373-z

Nature Chemistry | VOL 11 | DECEMBER 2019 | 1075 | www.nature.com/naturechemistry 1075