One flerovium atom at a time

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This month, our tour of the elements takes us to a corner of the periodic table that has only been explored recently, and from which only a handful of atoms have been observed. In the case of flerovium, literally one atom at a time. The superheavy element 114 has such a high nuclear charge that several months of nuclear fusion (in which calcium-48 ion beams are directed into targets of plutonium or curium isotopes) are required to produce just one atom — which then decays within seconds.


Georgii Nikolajevich Flerov

The discovery of element 114 is credited to a collaboration between the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna, Russia and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. In fact, things turned out pretty well for the two labs with two elements named at the same time: element 114, flerovium, and element 116, livermorium.

I’ll let you read Peter Schwerdtfeger’s account on what properties we might expect from flerovium, based on its structure, but also taking into account relativistic effects. Could those effects endow element 114 with an electronically closed-shell configuration, as suggested decades ago by Kenneth Pitzer? Is flerovium a gas at room temperature, or is it a metallic liquid? The properties and reactivity of flerovium are investigated both through calculations and experiments. For now, Peter Schwerdtfeger’s conclusion is that we should “expect the unexpected”.

Anne Pichon

Senior Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature

Anne received a broad training in chemistry at the National Graduate School of Chemistry in Montpellier, France. She then focused on inorganic and supramolecular chemistry and obtained her MPhil and PhD degrees from the Queen's University Belfast, UK, investigating porous coordination polymers for host–guest applications. After an internship with Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, Anne moved to John Wiley and Sons in 2007 as an assistant editor of the Society of Chemical Industry journals. She joined Nature Chemistry in October 2008, and was initially based in Tokyo where she also worked on other publishing projects with Nature Asia-Pacific. In April 2013, Anne relocated to the London office and now works full time on the journal.