Typically, the more protons and neutrons are added into an atomic nucleus, the more unstable an atom becomes. Most super-heavy elements last just microseconds or nanoseconds before decaying. Yet, scientists have predicted that an "island of stability" exists where super-heavy elements become stable again. If such an "island" exists, the elements in this theoretical region of the periodic table could be extremely long-lived — capable of existing for longer than nanoseconds — which scientists could then develop for untold practical uses, the researchers said. (A half-life refers to the time it takes for half of a substance to decay.)
Düllmann and his colleagues say their findings, published today (May 1) in the journal Physical Review Letters, are a step in the right direction.
"The successful experiments on element 117 are an important step on the path to the production and detection of elements situated on the 'island of stability' of super-heavy elements," Horst Stöcker, scientific director at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, said in a statement.
Element 117 was first reported in 2010 by a team of American and Russian scientists working together at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia. Since then, researchers have performed subsequent tests to confirm the existence of the elusive new element.
A committee from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the worldwide federation charged with standardizing nomenclature in chemistry, will review the findings to decide whether to formally accept element 117 and grant it an official name.
Live Science news editor Megan Gannon contributed reporting to this article.
More from LiveScience:
Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Original article appeared on LiveScience.com.