Man-Made Elements: Purely Academic Exercise?

I was wondering: What purpose or gain can there be to the scientific community by making man-made elements which only exist for a nonoblip of a second, anyhow? Is it purely an academic exercise just “because we can”, much like the mountain climber’s raison d’etre? Or, is there something to learn? And, can such elements have any practical use? - Jinx

Some of the manmade elements do have practical uses – americium, I think, is transuranic, and is used as a particle source in smoke detectors. But the main purpose is to observe the decay pattern and the half-life, with which basic theories can be tested. And of course because it’s cool.

Not all manmade isotopes are short-lived nor are they all particularly heavy. Technetium is lighter than silver, and two important isotopes (Tc-97 and Tc-98) have half lives of millions of years. They have been used to make corrosion-resistant steel, but this sort of steel is too radioactive for everyday use. Compounds of Tc-99m (the “m” indicates an isomeric state) have been used for medical imaging. With a half life of about 6 hours, Tc-99m decays to Tc-99 (in the ground state), which itself has a half life of about 200,000 years.

If I am correct, some chemists and phyiscists have theorized that there will be a plateau of stability somewhere in the range of At. no. 114-122, and we may be able to find uses for some of those elements. Personally, I am fascinated by the idea of a noble liquid.

When you say “stability”, Peyote, how stable are you talking about? A half-life of twenty minutes? Twenty million years? Low radioactivity? And what sort of properties would those elements have, anyhow?

Well, plutonium is man-made, and it is useful in both nuclear weapons, and can be used in nuclear power plants.

From, I find that element 114 has a half-life of about 30 seconds. This is very stable considering that elements 110 and 112 have half-lives of 270 and 240 microseconds respectively.

The new book Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, by John Emsley is an excellent reference for non-scientists. It gives the history and the uses for all the elements, including the transuranics and the few others which were first found by laboratory creation. He also points out that many of these “man-made” elements do occur in “nature,” although not always in accessable form.

If we do find a stable transuranic element is it at all possible to make such an element undergo fission?

The Periodic Table of Comic Books

Ooo, the Metal Men! Thanks for the flashback.

Here’s another fun info site that you can while away the workda–weekend at:

The Wooden Periodic Table Table

Of particular interest are the owner’s samples of radioactive vintage items intended for household use (“Mom, could I have another heaping helping of bleeding gums and skin lesions with my cereal?”).

(1) If there is an ‘island of stability’ around 114 to 122 then why is there no natural occuring elements in this range?

(2) Are all elements unstable given a long enough time (i.e. Oxygen has a 1/2 life of a google years)? If not how can we have a heat death of the universe then?

As JasonFin said, a half-life of 30 seconds is relatively long for a transuranic. Furthermore, as mentioned in this Nature news article, it’s been suggested that another, as yet unseen, isotope of 114 would have a half-life of several years.

Basically because the ones between Uranium and them are too unstable. It’s evidently very difficult to produce them in a lab, even though you’re deliberately trying to. To exist in nature, they’d have to be produced by lighter elements smashing together in the first brief instants of a supernova. For a start, the larger the nucleus, the less likely you’re going to get the right sequence of collisions in the first place. Also, most of the nuclei around will be relatively light. You’re thus unlikely to be able to jump from something like Uranium up to the island in a single step. And, in between, the half-lives are so short that what you’ve built up will decay before the next collision.
Even so, some might conceivably be produced. But, while the half-lives are relatively long, they’ll all have decayed away long before they’d get far from the explosion. So we don’t expect to find any of them naturally.

No. Or, more precisely, there are isotopes that are stable, given only known processes. The trivial example is Hydrogen. The simplest isotope’s nucleus is, after all, a single proton. Proton decay, with a ginormously long half-life, has been much theorised about and searched for experimentally, but has yet to be confirmed.
The Heat Death of the Universe is pretty much running out of usable energy. In fact, processes like proton decay would tend to delay it. People have speculated about things like whether life could survive in a cold, dark universe where all processes have long since faded away except such decays. In case you’re worried, some have claimed it could.

*People have speculated about things like whether life could survive in a cold, dark universe where all processes have long since faded away except such decays. In case you’re worried, some have claimed it could.

These stable high transuranics in the range At. no. 114-122 sound interesting, Peyote Coyote… any links?

This is might be the coolest debut post contribution in the history of the SDMB. Thanks and welcome, Mine!

Of particular interest to Dopers would be the downloadable movies from the Sodium Party. Tossing sodium into a lake, spraying sodium with garden hoses. It’s like Science Geek Porn. Well worth your time…