Public Lecture by Professor Jim Al-Khalili: Nuclear Physics and the Making of the Modern Periodic Table
Nothing epitomises the field of chemistry more than the periodic table of elements, a classification and ordering of all the different types of atoms in existence on a grid that can be found on the walls of every school chemistry laboratory in the world. And yet, for more than half of the 150 years since the periodic table was first proposed by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, it has been nuclear physicists, not chemists, who have been adding elements to it. To date, in nuclear accelerator labs around the world, 26 transuranic elements have been discovered, the heaviest of which being element 118, named Oganesson. This lecture recounts the story of how these very unstable and short-lived elements were synthesised, and the ingenuity of the nuclear physicists who succeeded where nature has failed. And the quest is not over yet, for a race is now on to create element 120. And there is speculation that even heavier and, crucially, longer-lived elements might exist in a region of the nuclear chart known as the ‘island of stability’. We may even be able to do interesting chemistry with these so-called 'superheavies'.