Category Archives: Nuclear physics

The Next Phase in the Hunt for New Superheavy Elements is About to Start


On 24 January 2016, I posted the article, “Where in the Periodic Table Will We Put Element 119?”, which reviews the development of the modern periodic table of chemical elements since it was first formulated in 1869 by Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev, through the completion of Period 7 with the naming element 118 in 2016.  You can read this post here:

2019 is the 150thanniversary of Dimitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements.  To commemorate this anniversary, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) have proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT). You’ll find more information on the IYPT here:

A brief animated “visualization” entitled “Setting the Table,”created by J. Yeston, N. Desai and E. Wang, provides a good overview of the history and configuration of the periodic table.  Check it out here:

The prospects for extending the periodic table beyond element 118 (into a new Period 8) is discussed in a short 2018 video from Science Magazine entitled “Where does the periodic table end?,”which you can view here:

The next phase in the hunt for new superheavy elements is about to start in Russia 

Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (FLNR) Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna is the leading laboratory in Russia, and perhaps the world, in the search for superheavy elements.  The FLNR website is here:

FLNR is the home of several accelerators and other experimental setups for nuclear research, including the U400 accelerator, which has been the laboratory’s basic tool for the synthesis of new elements since being placed in operation in 1979.  You can take a virtual tour of U400 on the FLNR website.  

On 30 May 2012 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) honored the work done by FLNR when it approved the name Flerovium (Fl) for superheavy element 114.

Yuri Oganessian, the Scientific Leader of FLNR, has contributed greatly to extending the periodic table through the synthesis of new superheavy elements.  On 30 November 2016, IUPAC recognized his personal contributions by naming superheavy element 118 after him:  Oganesson (Og). 

2017 Armenian postage stamp honoring Yuri Oganessian.  Source: FLNR JINR

FLNR has built a new $60 million accelerator facility, dubbed the Superheavy Element Factory (SHEF), which is expected to be capable of synthesizing elements beyond 118.  The SHEF building and the DC-280 cyclotron that will be used to synthesize superheavy elements are shown in the photos below.

The SHEF building, 14 Nov 2016. Source:  FLNR JINR
The completed DC-280 cyclotron, 26 December 2018.  Source:  FLNR JINR

The 2016 paper, “Status and perspectives of the Dubna superheavy element factory,”by S. Dmitriev, M. Itkis and Y. Oganessian, presents an overview of the DC-280 cyclotron design, including the following diagram showing the general arrangement of the major components.

Arrangement of the major components of the DC-280 cyclotron.  

You can read this 2016 paper here:

For insights into the processes for synthesizing superheavy elements, I recommend that you view the following March 2018 video in which FLNR Director Sergey Dmitriev describes the design of SHEF and the planned process of synthesizing superheavy elements 119 and 120.  This is a rather long (23 min) video, but I think it will be worth your time.

On 26 December 2018, the DC-280 cyclotron produced its first beam of accelerated heavy ions.  The hunt for new superheavy elements using DC-280 is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019.

A good overview of FLNR, as it prepares to put its Superheavy Element Factory into operation, is available in the article by Sam Kean, entitled “A storied Russian lab is trying to push the periodic table past its limits—and uncover exotic new elements,” which was posted on 30 January 2019 on the Science Magazine website. You’ll find this article at the following link:

The next few years may yield exciting new discoveries of the first members of Period 8 of the periodic table.  I think Dimitri Mendeleev would be impressed.

Additional reading:

Where in the Periodic Table Will We Put Element 119?

The first periodic table of elements

In 1869, Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev proposed the first modern periodic table of elements, in which he arranged the 60 known elements in order of their increasing atomic masses (average mass, considering relative abundance of isotopes in naturally-occurring elements), with elements organized into groups based their similar properties. Mendeleev observed that certain properties recur at regular intervals in the periodic table, thereby defining the groupings of elements.

Mendeleev stamp Source:

This first version of the periodic table is compared to the modern periodic table in the following diagram prepared by SIPSAWIYA.COM. Mendeleev’s periodic table consisted of Groups I to VIII in the modern periodic table.


The gaps represent undiscovered elements predicted by Mendeleev’s periodic table, for example, Gallium (atomic mass 69.7) and Germanium (atomic mass 72.6) . You can read more about Mendeleev’s periodic table at the following link:

German chemist Lothar Meyer was competing with Mendeleev to publish the first periodic table. The general consensus is that Mendeleev, not Meyer, was the true inventor of the periodic table because of the accuracy and detail of Mendeleev’s work.

Element mendelevium (101) was named in honor of Dimitri Mendeleev.

Evolution of the Modern Periodic Table of Elements

The modern periodic table organizes elements according to their atomic numbers (number of protons in the nucleus) into 7 periods (vertical) and 18 groups (horizontal). The version shown below, in the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) format, accounts for elements up to atomic number 118 and color-codes 10 different chemical series.



Hundreds of versions of the periodic table of elements have existed since Mendeleev’s first version. You can view a great many of these at The Internet Database of Periodic Tables curated by Dr. Mark R. Leach and presented at the following link:

Glenn T. Seaborg (1912 – 1999) is well known for his role in defining the structure of the modern periodic table. His key contributions to periodic table structure include:

  • In 1944, Seaborg formulated the ‘actinide concept’ of heavy element electron structure, which predicted that the actinides, including the first 11 transuranium elements, would form a transition series analogous to the rare earth series of lanthanide elements. The actinide concept showed how the transuranium elements fit into the periodic table.
  • Between 1944 and 1958, Seaborg identified eight transuranium elements: americium (95), curium (96), berkelium (97), californium (98), einsteinium (99), fermium (100), mendelevium (101), and nobelium (102).

Element seaborgium (106) was named in honor of Glenn T. Seaborg.  Check out details Glenn T. Seaborg’s work on transuranium elements at the following link:

Four newly-discovered and verified elements

On 30 December 2015, IUPAC announced the verification of the discoveries of the following four new elements: 113, 115, 117 and 118.

  • Credit for the discovery of element 113  was given to a team of scientists from the Riken institute in Japan.
  • Credit for discovery of elements 115 , 117 and 118 was given to a Russian-American team of scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

These four elements complete the 7th period of the periodic table of elements. The current table is now full.

You can read this IUPAC announcement at the following link:

On 28 November 2016, the IUPAC approved the names and symbols for these four new elements: nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), respectively for element 113, 115, 117, and 118.  Nihonium was the first element named in Asia.

Dealing with super-heavy elements beyond element 118

The number of physically possible elements is unknown.

In 1969, Glenn T. Seaborg proposed the following extended periodic table to account for undiscovered elements from atomic number 110 to 173, including the  “super-actinide” series of elements (atomic numbers 121 to 155).

Glenn Seaborg 1969 extended periodic table copy R1Source: W. Nebergal, et al., General Chemistry, 4th ed., pp 668 – 670, D.C. heath Co, Massachusetts, 1972

In 2010, Finnish chemist Pekka Pyykkö at the University of Helsinki proposed an extended periodic table with 54 predicted elements. The extension, shown below, is based on a computational model that predicts the order in which the electron orbital shells will fill up, and, therefore, the periodic table positions of elements up to atomic number 172. Pekka Pyykkö says that the value of the work is in showing, “how the rules of quantum mechanics and relativity function in determining chemical properties.”

Pyyko 2010 periodic tableSource: Royal Society of Chemistry

You can read more on Pekka Pyykkö’s extended periodic table at the following link:

You can read more general information on the extended periodic table on Wikipedia at the following link:

So where will we place element 119 in the periodic table of elements?

Based on both the Seaborg and Pyykkö extended periodic tables described above, element 119 will be the start of period 8 and it will be an alkali metal. Element 120 will be an alkaline earth. With element 121, we’ll enter the new chemical series of the “super-actinides”.

These are exciting times for scientists attempting to discover new super-heavy elements.

Where does neutronium fit in the periodic table?

Neutronium is a name coined in 1926 by scientist Andreas von Antropoff for a proposed “element of atomic number zero” (i.e., because it has no protons) that he placed at the head of the periodic table. In modern usage, the extremely dense core of a neutron star is referred to as “degenerate neutronium”.

Neutronium also finds many hypothetical applications in modern science fiction. For example, in the 1967 Star Trek episode, The Doomsday Machine, neutronium formed the hull of a giant, autonomous “planet killer”, and was portrayed as being invulnerable to all manner of scans and weapons. Since free neutrons at standard temperature and pressure undergo β decay with a half-life of 10 minutes, 11 seconds, a very small quantity of neutronium could be quite hazardous to your health.

14 January 2019 Update:  2019 marks the 150th anniversary of Dimitri Mendeleev’s periodic table

You’ll find a very good article, “150 years on, the periodic table has more stories than it has elements,” by Elizabeth Quill on the Science News website.  Here’s the link:

18 January 2019 Update:  Possibly the oldest copy of Mendeleev’s periodic table was found at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland

On 17 January 2019, the University of St. Andrews posted a news article stating that a periodic table of the elements dating from 1885 recently was found at the university and is thought to be the oldest in the world.

The 1885 periodic table.  Source: University of St. Andrews

You can read the University of St. Andrews news posting here: