The alternative title for this post was going to be “Closing in on Unobtanium”, but I realized that it might be better to explicitly remind you that the Large Hadron Collider, understandably featuring in the news a lot these days, is not the only particle accelerator in operation. Such machines are routinely at work all over the world (for example, supplying hospitals with radioactive materials used in medical diagnosis), and doing various kinds of key research (recall as another example the RHIC physics I’ve told you a bit about in relation to certain applications of string theory). One such set of investigations involves finding new heavy elements, extending the periodic table of elements. Yes, just like happened with Pluto’s demotion and its resulting effect on your internalized list of planets in the solar system, all your years of memorization of all the elements of the periodic table (!!) could be under threat if they go on adding to the list! The New York Times has a nice article by James Glanz about this work on element 117, which will fill the gap between element 116 and element 118, found earlier. Actually, this is apparently the fifth new element found in the last ten years, and so I could have just about used it as grounds for another good name for this post: “The Fifth Element”.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):