Lane Labs Asks: Can Your Milk Make A New Element On The Periodic Table? Calcium’s Role In 117

The question posed by Lane Labs is not as fanciful as it may appear at first glance. Scientists working at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, have created a new element which could become number 117 in the periodic table – and which has a tenuous connection to milk.

The basic material for the experiment was created at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. An element called berkelium was brought to a specific state and sent to GSI. There, the berkelium isotope was bombarded with calcium ions, which resulted in the creation of element 117.

Element 117 is an atom with 117 protons in its nucleus. Elements naturally found on Earth have a maximum of 104 protons. Any number in excess of that means that the element has been created synthetically in the laboratory. Uranium has 92 protons, and is the heaviest element found naturally, but scientists can artificially create heavier elements by adding protons into an atomic nucleus.

Christoph Dllmann, a professor at the Institute for Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, told Live Science: “There are predictions that super-heavy elements should exist which are very long-lived. It is interesting to find out if half-lives become long again for very heavy elements, especially if very neutron-rich species are made.” He also wondered if there is a limit to the number of protons that can be packed into an atomic nucleus.

The problem is that the more protons and neutrons that are added into an atomic nucleus, the more unstable an atom becomes. The other factor is that these super-heavy elements have a life counted in microseconds, or even nanoseconds, so they are not stable. Nevertheless, Dllmann says that the results of their current research published a few days ago in the journal Physical Review Letters, are a step in the right direction.