Why is it so difficult to discover / make new elements?


Since element numbers are based on protons, why can’t they just add more to discover element 119, 120, etc?

In: 0

They can. And they do. The problem is that the more protons they add to create heavier elements, the more unstable they are. And it takes an extreme amount of energy to make them. And once they’re made, because they’re so unstable, they break apart into lighter elements almost immediately afterwards. They’re radioactive and break apart and become 2 different elements and also shooting out sub atomic particles in the form of radiation

The atoms become very unstable and hard to detect. It isnt as simple as adding a proton. You need to force them to. Then when they do, they exist for a split millisecond and decay into something else. So you need to detect it in that split second of existence.

Every number you go up requires elements that are more and more unstable and hard to make. So it gets very expensive and very tedious just to have the materials.

Then you need a giant collider device running 24 7 for months at a time hoping that eventually a new element forms and that when it does, your machine can detect it in the split second it exists. Then you need to proce it actually existed.

It really isnt that easy to explain just via text and basic wording.

There was a good video put out on this recently called “the man who tried to fake an element”. They go through the element discovery race that took place through the 70s-90s and explain the process of the whole thing and why it isnt that easy and why it has reached the point of not really being doable.

We been making them, but bigger elements are less stable. Adding more protons requires slamming them together at high speed and hoping they stick. Even in the best of circumstances this is difficult to achieve, but when they’re so unstable it gets *really* improbable that they actually stick.

Protons are positively charged so they repel each other. The more protons you pack in a nucleus, the harder they push each other apart. At some point, the pushing force becomes too strong to be held in together by the nuclear binding energy and become unstable and undergoing radioactive decay. By element 106, the nucleus is already too unstable and would decay in a matter of seconds.

Assume that you have a ball of pool balls (like 8-balls), and they’re all stuck together with rubber bands, but they also all have little jets on them that are always firing AND facing away from the center. Now, the tension between the jets and the bands is very precise. Just enough so that the bands don’t break, but not so much that the balls smash unto each other. Now…the further from the center you get, the faster the jets go. Now, try to add one more ball. Maybe you’ll succeed, maybe you won’t, but if you do, the new ball gets all the same properties as all the rest. Eventually, the jets on the balls on the outside overcome the force of the rubber bands pulling them in, and the ball breaks away. That’s radioactivity (beta decay, I think…). You could try smashing a bunch if balls into the mix all at once. That could work. But, sometimes, when one ball breaks free, it takes a bunch of balls with it. That’s Alpha decay. Sometimes, when you do this, not only does one ball escape, but the whole mess gets jacked up so much that it just splits apart. That’s fission. And remember, the larger the group, the more often these things happen. Under about 80 balls, things are pretty stable (maybe fewer), but above that number, things go wonky really quick…