Exotic atom struggles to find its place in the periodic table

Measurements of an artificial radioactive element called lawrencium could revive an arcane controversy over the element’s position in the periodic table — and the structure of the table itself.

An international team of physicists and chemists reports in Nature1 that it takes very little energy to strip an electron out of an atom of lawrencium, element 103. The measurement is a tour de force of chemistry, because the radioactive element does not exist in nature, can be synthesized only in vanishingly small amounts, and lasts for mere seconds.

Lawrencium, named after physicist Ernest Lawrence, the inventor of the cyclotron particle accelerator, is the heaviest element for which researchers have yet measured the fundamental property known as the first ionization energy — the energy required to turn the atom into an ion by ripping out its most easily accessible electron. That measurement underpins researchers’ understanding of an atom’s chemistry, but until now had been known only for the elements up to einsteinium (atomic number 99). More here Nature News.

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