Back in January, it was announced that four new elements had earned a permanent spot on the periodic table, with elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 rounding out the seventh row.
- nihonium and symbol Nh, for the element with Z =113,
- moscovium with the symbol Mc, for the element with Z = 115,
- tennessine with the symbol Ts, for the element with Z = 117, and
- oganesson with the symbol Og, for the element with Z = 118.
Although it is a great scientific achievement, it is not as big as you might think.
To understand why, we have to take a deeper look into the process of creating new elements.
An element consists of protons neutrons and electrons, which I am sure everyone knows. Inside the nucleus of an element the protons and neutrons are held together by Gluons which are force carrying particles that transmit the Strong nuclear interaction, just like a Graviton transmits gravity.
But the strong interaction is a short ranged force, unlike gravity. It will only have an effect if the distances involved are very small, in the range of the sizes of the subatomic particles.
So, in order to make a new element, you either need to take an existing heavy element and bombard it with high energy protons and neutrons so that they can be fixed inside the nucleus by the strong and weak interactions or take two medium sized atoms and try to merge them into one bigger atom.
Although this process is very difficult and very improbable, it is possible to create new elements this way for a very short amount of time before they decay back into either its constituents or something else entirely.
The distinction between a new particle and a new element is very important. New particles would mean that we have new constituents of matter or energy which we never knew existed, like the Higgs Boson. Whereas new elements just mean we built a new structure from the already existing pieces of lego.
A new particle would mean that there is some new physics hidden in nature which we haven’t discovered. People from The Large Hadron Collider are looking for something called supersymmetric particles, which if found would be one of the biggest discoveries of the twenty-first century along with the discovery of Gravitational waves.