Who else has these adorable periodic table blocks from Uncle Goose? We’ve been given two sets, one for each kid, and today we discovered something was different between the first set from 4 years ago (bottom) and the new set (top). Four new elements had been named! I had no clue! (And bravo to Uncle Goose for updating them!)
The “U” words on the bottom row were official placeholders for these yet-to-named elements. They are Latin for the individual numbers in the atomic number (118 is ununoctium for 1-1-8). The atomic number is the number of protons in the nucleus. If the number of protons is changed, you have a different element; whereas, if the number of neutrons is changed (the other subatomic particle in the nucleus), you have a different isotope.
Fun thing about all these super heavy elements is that the scientists who got to name them MADE them. We knew their existence was possible, but you just don’t find these on Earth. The nucleus is so heavy and unstable that they decay to another element almost immediately. Elements after atomic number 104 decay within minutes or less, and elements after Uranium (92) are generally not found on Earth (with a few exceptions).
Why do scientist make these huge elements if they don’t last long enough to do anything with them? Elements on the periodic table are arranged in a certain way because electrons arrange themselves into predictable groups/patterns called orbitals. Arrangement of electrons in orbitals dictates an element’s properties. Elements in the same vertical period on the table have similar reactivities. Through some (I imagine) pretty complicated math, one can calculate the orbital filling order and energies and begin to predict characteristics of these elements that haven’t been made yet. Being able to make these short-lived elements is the first step to exploring their chemistry. And supposedly, things get pretty freaky around 164.
Get your set here (affiliate link will take you to Amazon). We’ve used our blocks quite a bit. We haven’t done any science-y things with them, just building and working on sounding out letters, but they are a cute novelty to have around!
Morss, L., et al. (2006) Dordrecht: Springer ISBN 978-4020-3555-5
Karol, et al. Pure Appl. Chem. 88 (2016) 139.
Karol, et al. Pure Appl. Chem. 155 (2016)