When atomic scientists play with their building blocks

…they can sometimes create a new element.

That seems to be the case in Japan, where researchers at RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science say they’ve created element 113, a missing piece on the periodic table.

113, an elusive theoretical element with 113 protons, has been just out of reach for scientists since the first man-made atom was crafted in 1940. Scientists at RIKEN say they collided zinc nuclei (with 30 protons) with a sheet of bismuth (83 protons). 113 didn’t last very long; as a larger atom it would be unstable, and scientists say it quickly started shedding protons. Nevertheless, they say their data will show that 113 did exist, if only for a moment.

If the data proves true, Japan will get the naming rights to the element. So far, only the United States, Russia and Germany have sired and christened new little (or big) atoms.

But if these atoms are so unstable and scientists are seemingly making them only to give them names like Americium, what’s the point?

It’s simple. By playing around with atoms, just like a kid playing with an erector set, scientists will learn new things about how they work, just like a kid will learn about spacial reasoning, mechanics, etc. … a good case to squeeze in that play time.

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