Researchers at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, an accelerator laboratory located in Darm-stadt, Germany, have obtained evidence for the artificial creation of element 117.
The experiment was performed by an international team 72 scientists and engineers from 16 institutions in Australia, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, headed by Prof. Christoph Dullmann, who holds positions at GSI, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM).
In a powerful example of international collaboration, this new measurement required close coordination between the accelerator and detection capabilities at GSI in Germany and the unique actinide isotope production and separation facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the U.S.
The special berkelium target material, essential for the synthesis of element 117, was produced over an 18-month-long campaign. This required intense neutron irradiation at ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor, followed by chemical separation and purification at ORNL's Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. Approximately 13 milligrams of the highly-purified isotope Bk-249, which itself decays with a half-life of only 330 days, were then shipped to Mainz University.
There, the facilities and expertise are available to transform the exotic radioisotope into a target, able to withstand the high-power calcium-ion beams from the GSI accelerator.
Atoms of element 117 were separated from huge numbers of other nuclear reaction products in the TransActinide Separator and Chemistry Apparatus (TASCA) and were identified through their radioactive decay.
These measured chains of alpha-decays produced isotopes of lighter elements with atomic numbers 115 to 103, whose registration added to the proof for the observation of element 117.
In the decay chains, both a previously unknown alpha-decay pathway in Db-270 (dubnium - element 105) and the new isotope Lr-266 (lawrencium - element 103) were identified. With half-lives of about one hour and about 11 hours, respectively, they are among the longest-lived superheavy isotopes known to date.