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Flerovium is a superheavy synthetic chemical element; it has symbol Fl and atomic number 114. It is an extremely radioactive synthetic element, named after the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, where the element was discovered in 1999. The lab's name, in turn, honours Russian physicist Georgy Flyorov (Флёров in Cyrillic, hence the transliteration of "yo" to "e"). IUPAC adopted the name on 30 May 2012. The name and symbol had previously been proposed for element 102 (nobelium), but was not accepted by IUPAC at that time.
| (unconfirmed: 290)
|Flerovium in the periodic table
|Atomic number (Z)
|group 14 (carbon group)
|[Rn] 5f14 6d10 7s2 7p2 (predicted)
|Electrons per shell
|2, 8, 18, 32, 32, 18, 4 (predicted)
|Phase at STP
|284 ± 50 K (11 ± 50 °C, 52 ± 90 °F) (predicted)
|Density (near r.t.)
|11.4 ± 0.3 g/cm3 (predicted)
|Heat of vaporization
|38 kJ/mol (predicted)
|(0), (+1), (+2), (+4), (+6) (predicted)
|empirical: 180 pm (predicted)
|171–177 pm (extrapolated)
|after Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (itself named after Georgy Flyorov)
|Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) (1999)
|Isotopes of flerovium
| Category: Flerovium
It is a transactinide in the p-block of the periodic table. It is in period 7, the heaviest known member of the carbon group, and the last element whose chemistry has been investigated. Initial chemical studies in 2007–2008 indicated that flerovium was unexpectedly volatile for a group 14 element. More recent results show that flerovium's reaction with gold is similar to that of copernicium, showing it is very volatile and may even be gaseous at standard temperature and pressure, that it would show metallic properties, consistent with being the heavier homologue of lead, and that it would be the least reactive metal in group 14. Whether flerovium behaves more like a metal or a noble gas is still unresolved as of 2023; it might also be a semiconductor.
Very little is known about flerovium, as it can only be produced one atom at a time, either through direct synthesis or through radioactive decay of even heavier elements, and all known isotopes are short-lived. Six isotopes of flerovium are known, ranging in mass number between 284 and 289; the most stable of these, 289Fl, has a half-life of ~1.9 seconds, but the unconfirmed 290Fl may have a longer half-life of 19 seconds, which would be one of the longest half-lives of any nuclide in these farthest reaches of the periodic table. Flerovium is predicted to be near the centre of the theorized island of stability, and it is expected that heavier flerovium isotopes, especially the possibly magic 298Fl, may have even longer half-lives.
Synthesis of superheavy nuclei
A superheavy atomic nucleus is created in a nuclear reaction that combines two other nuclei of unequal size into one; roughly, the more unequal the two nuclei in terms of mass, the greater the possibility that the two react. The material made of the heavier nuclei is made into a target, which is then bombarded by the beam of lighter nuclei. Two nuclei can only fuse into one if they approach each other closely enough; normally, nuclei (all positively charged) repel each other due to electrostatic repulsion. The strong interaction can overcome this repulsion but only within a very short distance from a nucleus; beam nuclei are thus greatly accelerated in order to make such repulsion insignificant compared to the velocity of the beam nucleus. The energy applied to the beam nuclei to accelerate them can cause them to reach speeds as high as one-tenth of the speed of light. However, if too much energy is applied, the beam nucleus can fall apart.
Coming close enough alone is not enough for two nuclei to fuse: when two nuclei approach each other, they usually remain together for approximately 10−20 seconds and then part ways (not necessarily in the same composition as before the reaction) rather than form a single nucleus. This happens because during the attempted formation of a single nucleus, electrostatic repulsion tears apart the nucleus that is being formed. Each pair of a target and a beam is characterized by its cross section—the probability that fusion will occur if two nuclei approach one another expressed in terms of the transverse area that the incident particle must hit in order for the fusion to occur. This fusion may occur as a result of the quantum effect in which nuclei can tunnel through electrostatic repulsion. If the two nuclei can stay close for past that phase, multiple nuclear interactions result in redistribution of energy and an energy equilibrium.
The resulting merger is an excited state—termed a compound nucleus—and thus it is very unstable. To reach a more stable state, the temporary merger may fission without formation of a more stable nucleus. Alternatively, the compound nucleus may eject a few neutrons, which would carry away the excitation energy; if the latter is not sufficient for a neutron expulsion, the merger would produce a gamma ray. This happens in approximately 10−16 seconds after the initial nuclear collision and results in creation of a more stable nucleus. The definition by the IUPAC/IUPAP Joint Working Party (JWP) states that a chemical element can only be recognized as discovered if a nucleus of it has not decayed within 10−14 seconds. This value was chosen as an estimate of how long it takes a nucleus to acquire its outer electrons and thus display its chemical properties.
Decay and detection
The beam passes through the target and reaches the next chamber, the separator; if a new nucleus is produced, it is carried with this beam. In the separator, the newly produced nucleus is separated from other nuclides (that of the original beam and any other reaction products) and transferred to a surface-barrier detector, which stops the nucleus. The exact location of the upcoming impact on the detector is marked; also marked are its energy and the time of the arrival. The transfer takes about 10−6 seconds; in order to be detected, the nucleus must survive this long. The nucleus is recorded again once its decay is registered, and the location, the energy, and the time of the decay are measured.
Stability of a nucleus is provided by the strong interaction. However, its range is very short; as nuclei become larger, its influence on the outermost nucleons (protons and neutrons) weakens. At the same time, the nucleus is torn apart by electrostatic repulsion between protons, and its range is not limited. Total binding energy provided by the strong interaction increases linearly with the number of nucleons, whereas electrostatic repulsion increases with the square of the atomic number, i.e. the latter grows faster and becomes increasingly important for heavy and superheavy nuclei. Superheavy nuclei are thus theoretically predicted and have so far been observed to predominantly decay via decay modes that are caused by such repulsion: alpha decay and spontaneous fission. Almost all alpha emitters have over 210 nucleons, and the lightest nuclide primarily undergoing spontaneous fission has 238. In both decay modes, nuclei are inhibited from decaying by corresponding energy barriers for each mode, but they can be tunnelled through.
Alpha particles are commonly produced in radioactive decays because mass of an alpha particle per nucleon is small enough to leave some energy for the alpha particle to be used as kinetic energy to leave the nucleus. Spontaneous fission is caused by electrostatic repulsion tearing the nucleus apart and produces various nuclei in different instances of identical nuclei fissioning. As the atomic number increases, spontaneous fission rapidly becomes more important: spontaneous fission partial half-lives decrease by 23 orders of magnitude from uranium (element 92) to nobelium (element 102), and by 30 orders of magnitude from thorium (element 90) to fermium (element 100). The earlier liquid drop model thus suggested that spontaneous fission would occur nearly instantly due to disappearance of the fission barrier for nuclei with about 280 nucleons. The later nuclear shell model suggested that nuclei with about 300 nucleons would form an island of stability in which nuclei will be more resistant to spontaneous fission and will primarily undergo alpha decay with longer half-lives. Subsequent discoveries suggested that the predicted island might be further than originally anticipated; they also showed that nuclei intermediate between the long-lived actinides and the predicted island are deformed, and gain additional stability from shell effects. Experiments on lighter superheavy nuclei, as well as those closer to the expected island, have shown greater than previously anticipated stability against spontaneous fission, showing the importance of shell effects on nuclei.
Alpha decays are registered by the emitted alpha particles, and the decay products are easy to determine before the actual decay; if such a decay or a series of consecutive decays produces a known nucleus, the original product of a reaction can be easily determined. (That all decays within a decay chain were indeed related to each other is established by the location of these decays, which must be in the same place.) The known nucleus can be recognized by the specific characteristics of decay it undergoes such as decay energy (or more specifically, the kinetic energy of the emitted particle). Spontaneous fission, however, produces various nuclei as products, so the original nuclide cannot be determined from its daughters.The information available to physicists aiming to synthesize a superheavy element is thus the information collected at the detectors: location, energy, and time of arrival of a particle to the detector, and those of its decay. The physicists analyze this data and seek to conclude that it was indeed caused by a new element and could not have been caused by a different nuclide than the one claimed. Often, provided data is insufficient for a conclusion that a new element was definitely created and there is no other explanation for the observed effects; errors in interpreting data have been made.
In the late 1940s to early 1960s, the early days of making heavier and heavier transuranic elements, it was predicted that since such elements did not occur naturally, they would have shorter and shorter spontaneous fission half-lives, until they stopped existing altogether around element 108 (now called hassium). Initial work in synthesizing the heavier actinides seemed to confirm this. But the nuclear shell model, introduced in 1949 and extensively developed in the late 1960s by William Myers and Władysław Świątecki, stated that protons and neutrons form shells within a nucleus, analogous to electron shells. Noble gases are unreactive due to a full electron shell; similarly, it was theorized that elements with full nuclear shells – those having "magic" numbers of protons or neutrons – would be stabilized against decay. A doubly magic isotope, with magic numbers of both protons and neutrons, would be especially stabilized. Heiner Meldner calculated in 1965 that the next doubly magic isotope after 208Pb was 298Fl with 114 protons and 184 neutrons, which would be the centre of an "island of stability". This island of stability, supposedly from copernicium (Z = 112) to oganesson (Z = 118), would come after a long "sea of instability" from mendelevium (Z = 101) to roentgenium (Z = 111), and the flerovium isotopes in it were speculated in 1966 to have half-lives over 108 years. These early predictions fascinated researchers, and led to the first attempt to make flerovium, in 1968 with the reaction 248Cm(40Ar,xn). No flerovium atoms were detected; this was thought to be because the compound nucleus 288Fl only has 174 neutrons instead of the supposed magic 184, and this would have significant impact on the reaction cross section (yield) and half-lives of nuclei produced. It was then 30 more years before flerovium was first made. Later work suggests the islands of stability around hassium and flerovium occur because these nuclei are respectively deformed and oblate, which make them resistant to spontaneous fission, and that the true island of stability for spherical nuclei occurs at around unbibium-306 (122 protons, 184 neutrons).
The first sign of flerovium was found in December 1998 by a team of scientists at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), Dubna, Russia, led by Yuri Oganessian, who bombarded a target of plutonium-244 with accelerated nuclei of calcium-48:
* → 290
+ 2 1
This reaction had been tried before, without success; for this 1998 attempt, JINR had upgraded all of its equipment to detect and separate the produced atoms better and bombard the target more intensely. One atom of flerovium, alpha decaying with lifetime 30.4 s, was detected. The decay energy measured was 9.71 MeV, giving an expected half-life of 2–23 s. This observation was assigned to 289Fl and was published in January 1999. The experiment was later repeated, but an isotope with these decay properties was never observed again, so the exact identity of this activity is unknown. It may have been due to the isomer 289mFl, but because the presence of a whole series of longer-lived isomers in its decay chain would be rather doubtful, the most likely assignment of this chain is to the 2n channel leading to 290Fl and electron capture to 290Nh. This fits well with the systematics and trends of flerovium isotopes, and is consistent with the low beam energy chosen for that experiment, though further confirmation would be desirable via synthesis of 294Lv in a 248Cm(48Ca,2n) reaction, which would alpha decay to 290Fl. The RIKEN team reported possible synthesis of isotopes 294Lv and 290Fl in 2016 in a 248Cm(48Ca,2n) reaction, but the alpha decay of 294Lv was missed, alpha decay of 290Fl to 286Cn was observed instead of electron capture to 290Nh, and the assignment to 294Lv instead of 293Lv was not certain.
Glenn T. Seaborg, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who had been involved in work to make such superheavy elements, had said in December 1997 that "one of his longest-lasting and most cherished dreams was to see one of these magic elements"; he was told of the synthesis of flerovium by his colleague Albert Ghiorso soon after its publication in 1999. Ghiorso later recalled:
I wanted Glenn to know, so I went to his bedside and told him. I thought I saw a gleam in his eye, but the next day when I went to visit him he didn't remember seeing me. As a scientist, he had died when he had that stroke.— Albert Ghiorso
In March 1999, the same team replaced the 244Pu target with 242Pu to make other flerovium isotopes. Two atoms of flerovium were produced as a result, each alpha-decaying with a half-life of 5.5 s. They were assigned as 287Fl. This activity has not been seen again either, and it is unclear what nucleus was produced. It is possible that it was an isomer 287mFl or from electron capture by 287Fl, leading to 287Nh and 283Rg.
The now-confirmed discovery of flerovium was made in June 1999 when the Dubna team repeated the first reaction from 1998. This time, two atoms of flerovium were produced; they alpha decayed with half-life 2.6 s, different from the 1998 result. This activity was initially assigned to 288Fl in error, due to the confusion regarding the previous observations that were assumed to come from 289Fl. Further work in December 2002 finally allowed a positive reassignment of the June 1999 atoms to 289Fl.
In May 2009, the Joint Working Party (JWP) of IUPAC published a report on the discovery of copernicium in which they acknowledged discovery of the isotope 283Cn. This implied the discovery of flerovium, from the acknowledgement of the data for the synthesis of 287Fl and 291Lv, which decay to 283Cn. The discovery of flerovium-286 and -287 was confirmed in January 2009 at Berkeley. This was followed by confirmation of flerovium-288 and -289 in July 2009 at Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) in Germany. In 2011, IUPAC evaluated the Dubna team's 1999–2007 experiments. They found the early data inconclusive, but accepted the results of 2004–2007 as flerovium, and the element was officially recognized as having been discovered.
While the method of chemical characterization of a daughter was successful for flerovium and livermorium, and the simpler structure of even–even nuclei made confirmation of oganesson (Z = 118) straightforward, there have been difficulties in establishing the congruence of decay chains from isotopes with odd protons, odd neutrons, or both. To get around this problem with hot fusion, the decay chains from which terminate in spontaneous fission instead of connecting to known nuclei as cold fusion allows, experiments were done in Dubna in 2015 to produce lighter isotopes of flerovium by reaction of 48Ca with 239Pu and 240Pu, particularly 283Fl, 284Fl, and 285Fl; the last had previously been characterized in the 242Pu(48Ca,5n)285Fl reaction at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2010. 285Fl was more clearly characterized, while the new isotope 284Fl was found to undergo immediate spontaneous fission instead of alpha decay to known nuclides around the N = 162 shell closure, and 283Fl was not found. This lightest isotope may yet conceivably be produced in the cold fusion reaction 208Pb(76Ge,n)283Fl, which the team at RIKEN in Japan has considered investigating: this reaction is expected to have a higher cross-section of 200 fb than the "world record" low of 30 fb for 209Bi(70Zn,n)278Nh, the reaction which RIKEN used for the official discovery of element 113 (nihonium). The Dubna team repeated their investigation of the 240Pu+48Ca reaction in 2017, observing three new consistent decay chains of 285Fl, another decay chain from this nuclide that may pass through some isomeric states in its daughters, a chain that could be assigned to 287Fl (likely from 242Pu impurities in the target), and some spontaneous fissions of which some could be from 284Fl, though other interpretations including side reactions involving evaporation of charged particles are also possible.
Per Mendeleev's nomenclature for unnamed and undiscovered elements, flerovium is sometimes called eka-lead. In 1979, IUPAC published recommendations according to which the element was to be called ununquadium (symbol Uuq), a systematic element name as a placeholder, until the discovery of the element is confirmed and a permanent name is decided on. Most scientists in the field called it "element 114", with the symbol of E114, (114) or 114.
Per IUPAC recommendations, the discoverer(s) of a new element has the right to suggest a name. After IUPAC recognized the discovery of flerovium and livermorium on 1 June 2011, IUPAC asked the discovery team at JINR to suggest permanent names for the two elements. The Dubna team chose the name flerovium (symbol Fl), after Russia's Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (FLNR), named after Soviet physicist Georgy Flyorov (also spelled Flerov); earlier reports claim the element name was directly proposed to honour Flyorov. In accordance with the proposal received from the discoverers, IUPAC officially named flerovium after Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, not after Flyorov himself. Flyorov is known for writing to Joseph Stalin in April 1942 and pointing out the silence in scientific journals in the field of nuclear fission in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Flyorov deduced that this research must have become classified information in those countries. Flyorov's work and urgings led to the development of the USSR's own atomic bomb project. Flyorov is also known for the discovery of spontaneous fission with Konstantin Petrzhak. The naming ceremony for flerovium and livermorium was held on 24 October 2012 in Moscow.
In a 2015 interview with Oganessian, the host, in preparation to ask a question, said, "You said you had dreamed to name [an element] after your teacher Georgy Flyorov." Without letting the host finish, Oganessian repeatedly said, "I did."