COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Researchers at Ohio State University are using theoretical methods to study two recently discovered elements that exist for less than a second in a laboratory. Only a few atoms of these elements have been made.

Early studies of elements 110 and 111 -- so new they haven't received official names -- suggest the atoms of the elements exhibit properties similar to those of platinum, silver, gold and other transition metals.

These newly discovered elements, which are the heaviest known atoms, are characterized by their atomic number, which defines the number of protons and electrons in an atom of the element.

The short half-lives of these elements mean scientists have only been able to create one atom of the element at a time, which prevents them from doing a thorough chemical analysis, said Bruce Bursten, professor of chemistry at Ohio State. Theoretical analysis, however, can be done by using known information, such

as atomic number and placement on the periodic table.

"Our work has shown that elements 110 and 111 are transition metals and are the next logical succession to elements like 106," Bursten said. "The electronic structure of those elements are consistent with placing them immediately below platinum and gold in the periodic table."

Clinton Nash, a graduate student in chemistry at Ohio State, worked with Bursten on the research project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In doing theoretical analysis of elements, researchers use information about the charge on the atom's nucleus and number of electrons, which they get from knowing the element's atomic number. They then apply quantum mechanics to describe the behavior of the electrons.

To perfect their methods and the computer software they use to do their analysis, researchers first make predictions about the behavior of elements that have been studied in a laboratory.

"We feel pretty confident of the accuracy of our methods, based on results we have had when comparing our predictions with calculations that can be done in laboratories," he said.

Elements 110 and 111 were discovered in late 1994 by scientists in Darmstadt, Germany. The same group of scientists reported the discovery of element 112 in February.

"Because there are only a few atoms of these elements and because they have very short half-lives, it will be difficult to develop the experimental chemistry of these elements," Bursten said. "Our theoretical studies are able to provide information about the chemistry of these elements that we hope will help the experimentalists who are studying these elements."

The nuclei of these elements will most likely never be made stable enough for the elements to be of practical use, Bursten said. But many scientists believe elements that will one day be created with an atomic number of 114 will be stable. Work on elements that come before element 114 will help chemists predict the behavior of these stable elements.

"There are predictions that if one can get to element 114, there will be an 'island of stability,' for which there will be very stable nuclei," Bursten said. "If we look at elements 110 and beyond, we're going to develop a cohesive picture of how the chemistry changes as more electrons are added."

Scientists believe that elements' behavior is related to where they are placed on the periodic table, Bursten said.

"The table was developed on the basis that certain elements have certain chemistry, and those elements with similar chemistry were grouped together in the table," he said. "As you get to the bottom of the table, and the mixture of electrons gets more complex, the question is where to put these new elements."

Scientists are finding that the electronic structure of many of the newer elements is similar to elements that have been studied in the laboratory. This helps them determine where they should be placed on the periodic table.

"The more we are able to predict about electronic behavior as new elements are placed further down on the periodic table, the more we will know about that element's future chemistry," he said.

The work was presented last month at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in New Orleans.

Contact: Bruce Bursten, (614) 292-1866;

Written by Kelli Whitlock, (614) 292-9475;

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