Thursday, February 22, 2007

Welcome Aboard, Stuart

Russian and American scientists have created a so far nameless element with the atomic number 118. It lasted for a millisecond, but there it was, the first man-made inert gas. Stuart, as I predict it will be named, seems to be causing some confusion in the mind of Seth Borenstein of Associated Press. At one point he says the element has been created, at another he says it is a discovery. Did Stuart in exist before we made him, perhaps virtually, as a possibility concealed within the laws of physics? And did we, therefore, 'discover' this possibility? Or is it as meaningless to say Stuart exists in this field as to say a BMW 5 series exists in the earth's crust, waiting to be discovered? He was, therefore, created. But there is something odd about the idea of 'creating' elements. something irrational. Creation implies changing one state into another, but what can be prior to an element? Also creating elements feels like impiety, but, of course, it's just the language. 'Element' has become a strange misnomer now that we can fiddle with quarks.


  1. Bryan,

    An interesting thought.

    In theory new elements can be made with increasing atomic weight by bashing existing elements together with enough force.

    There are limits, the higher the atomic number islands of stability exist as do no-go impossiblity areas. - me neither.

    I look forward to Applyardium

  2. Note the use of the BMW 5 Series metaphor. You're definitely metamorphing into a Top Gear presenter, Bryan.

    The ununoctium-294 nucleus (to give it its provisional name) was created (along with 3 neutrons) in collisions between californium-249 atoms and calcium-48 ions. So, the incoming state, represented by a vector in the tensor product of the californium-249 state space and the calcium-48 state space, underwent a transition into a state belonging to the tensor product of the ununoctium-294 state space and the three-fold tensor product of the neutron state space.

    I think that fiddling with quarks is banned in most American states.

  3. This and that make the other.

  4. You can’t intend to make something and then claim it as a discovery if you succeed. Stuart’s existence would have to contradict established scientific theory in order to qualify as a discovery.

    I think this distinction also works for BMWs in the earth’s crust.

  5. Mind boggles! No mention of supercoliders, CERN et al. So, may be done on the cheap!

    Interesting issues re 'discovery' vs 'creation' of elements. Gordon, do you know what did they say about elements 113, 114, 115, and 116 (as yet also unnamed?

    And, why is 112 not mentioned by name here? I am curious.

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  7. The professional articles tend to speak of 'synthesizing' superheavy elements, rather than 'discovering' or 'creating' them:

    However, the Wikipedia articles all seem to speak of 'discovering' such elements. 112 is also yet-to-be named.

  8. Now, please, no more questions: I'm trying to watch 'Wild Things'.