There are currently 118 confirmed chemical elements, the last 24 of which are synthetic. But as scientists construct larger and larger atomic nuclei, these artificial elements become increasingly unstable, often breaking up in mere seconds or even microseconds. However, some scientists believe that this won’t always be the case and await the day when the “Island of Stability” is finally discovered. What is this mysterious Island?
The Chaos Book Club
Today is Day 14 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:
Stretching the Limits of Science?
The search for elements is an exploration in its own right, with its own goals, setbacks, and personalities. The last naturally-occurring element was discovered (well, rediscovered) in 1925. And for a short while, many scientists thought that the “Age of Element Exploration” was over. But all that changed when the first artificial element, dubbed technetium, was created in 1937 (technetium has since been shown to exist in very minute quantities on earth).
Scientists began to create new and larger elements. In 1940, Glenn T. Seaborg bombarded uranium with deuterons and synthesized the gigantic 94-proton nucleus of plutonium. They didn’t stop there. Seaborg and others continued to build bigger and bigger elements. However, these elements were increasingly unstable and broke up quickly. Many scientists thought they were nearing the end of the Periodic Table.
The Island of Stability?
In the late 1960s, Seaborg proposed the “Island of Stability,” a hypothetical concept that would allow the Periodic Table to stretch even further. He suggested that an atomic nucleus was made of up electron “shells” and that the stability of an element depended partly on whether its shells were filled. Some possible configurations were elements that contained 184 neutrons and 114, 120, or 126 protons. These “superheavy” elements could, theoretically, have extremely long half-lives.
With renewed vigor, scientists began to discuss the quest to reach the Island of Stability. The journey would take them past the stable “mountains” (smaller elements) and through the “Sea of Instability” where elements underwent near spontaneous fission.
In 1998, scholars neared the Island’s shores when they created Element 114. However, the isotope that they synthesized didn’t contain the optimal amount of neutrons. And that is where we stand today. The quest continues and someday soon, we will hopefully discover the mysterious Island.
“But such questions are, in a sense, beside the point. We search for the island of stability because, like Mount Everest, it is there. But, as with Everest, there is profound emotion, too, infusing the scientific search to test a hypothesis. The quest for the magic island shows us that science is far from being coldness and calculation, as many people imagine, but is shot through with passion, longing and romance.” ~ Oliver Sacks
The Island of Stability & Chaos
The idea of a stable, superheavy element residing on the Island of Stability is intriguing. It seems possible that such an element would have unusual properties. Obviously, it would exhibit an extended lifespan, perhaps one lasting days, months, or even years. And since it would be super-dense, it’s possible that it would be nearly indestructible as a result.
If you read yesterday’s post, you might see where I’m going with this. If you do, then you understand why Red Mercury is so dangerous in my novel Chaos…and why the last thing one would want is to have it explode…
Jumping up, I knocked his gun hand into the air. As I did so, I released the powder and it flew toward the river.
Chase and I struggled over the gun. I knocked it from his grasp. It fell to the ground and he shoved me toward the river.
As he stooped for his gun, I saw my pistol. My fingers closed around it. There was no time to think, only time to react. Raising the gun, I pointed it into the air. But before I could fire, the drifting cloud of Red Mercury sparked.
And then, the whole damn place went up in flames. ~ David Meyer, Chaos
That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to take a trip back to Nazi Germany to uncover one of its most frightening wartime projects, one that caused tremendous fear and consternation for the Allies. If you want to know what I mean, stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you then!
Chaos Book Club
- October 17: Chaos has Arrived!
- October 24: The Story of Chaos
- October 25: The Great Train Robbery?
- October 26: Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?
- October 27: What was Operation Paperclip?
- October 28: Nazi Treasure & ODESSA?
- October 29: Do the Mole People Exist?
- October 31: FDR’s Lost Subway Car?
- November 1: Do Alligators Live in New York City Sewers?
- November 2: The Mysterious Minamata Disease?
- November 3: Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?
- November 4: Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?
- November 5: The Strange Case of Red Mercury?
- November 6: The Island of Stability?
- November 7: The Nazi Atomic Bomb?
- November 8: The Nth Country Experiment?
- November 9: Why did America really bomb Hiroshima?
- November 10: New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?
- November 11: Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?
- November 12: The Strange Science of Superconductors?
- November 13: What’s Next for Cyclone Reed