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What is Ununhexium?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Ununhexium is a chemical element which is presumed to be metallic in nature, as it appears to share some traits with elements in the poor metals group of the periodic table. It is also classified as a transactinide element, meaning that it has an extremely high atomic number, placing it among the heaviest elements known to man. This element cannot be observed in nature; scientists who wish to study it must synthesize it in a laboratory with the assistance of a linear accelerator. This costly process makes it unlikely that commercial uses for ununhexium will be developed.

Like other transactinides, ununhexium is extremely unstable, existing for only a few seconds at a time before it decays into the form of a more stable element. It is also radioactive. These two traits make this element very challenging to study; very precise and sophisticated scientific equipment is needed when studying transactinide elements. Because many of the elements which are used to synthesize transactinide elements are also radioactive, access to facilities where such synthesis takes place tends to be tightly controlled.

This element is sometimes known as “eka-polonium.” It has no official name as of 2008; “ununhexium” is a systematic element name which was applied by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. These names are used to ensure that scientists refer to elements in a systematic way before they are formally named; the name of an element is typically suggested by the lab which discovers it, and it can take several decades to confirm discoveries and determine who gets the naming honor. Systematic element names reference the atomic numbers of the elements they describe; ununhexium is element 116, and ununhex means “one one six” in Latin. For now, ununhexium is known as “Uuh” on the periodic table of elements.

The first known appearance of ununhexium in the lab occurred in 2000, when Russian researchers managed to produce a small amount of it by bombarding calcium with curium. Originally, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory claimed that they had identified ununhexium, along with ununoctium, but this claim was later retracted. Researchers in Dubna, Russia have managed to repeat their original experiment and also to identify some new isotopes of ununhexium since their initial publication in 2000.

The so-called “super heavy elements” at the tail end of the periodic table are quite interesting to some researchers. The frustration involved in studying them only adds to the allure for some, as many scientists like nothing as much as a good challenge.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Saraq90 — On Aug 29, 2011

@runner101 - While like the others who have posted to, I am not sure of the use of the man made elements (but I guess maybe it is not necessarily about their current uses as much as their future uses as @jennythelib mentioned), I read an article about an element called ununquadium.

It was actually founded in either 2004 or 2006 by the same team that founded ununhexium but it was not made official until after a three year review, which seems to be the going-rate for reviews for official element status.

By runner101 — On Aug 29, 2011

Poor kids at school, the scientists will probably continue to find more elements that they have to learn about.

What was the last man made element (or I guess found the element via man made methods)?

By jennythelib — On Aug 28, 2011

@robbie21 - Well, I guess it counts as an element because it exists, however briefly, with a a certain number of protons in the nucleus and, after all, that's all that it takes to fil a blank in the periodic table. For all we know, man-made elements like ununhexium could exist elsewhere in the universe in nature, but they might look quite different. Could have a different number of neutrons, for instance (i.e., be a different isotope).

As for the point of studying that kind of thing, that's another question. But many, many important discoveries have been made by accident or with no practical application in mind. For instance, it took decades before anyone thought of a use for radio waves. And where would we be without Teflon, of all things?

By MissDaphne — On Aug 27, 2011

@robbie21 - Well, I guess it counts as an element because it exists, however, briefly, with a certain number of protons in the nucleus and, after all, that's all that determines an element's place. I suppose for all we know, man-made elements like ununhexium could exist elsewhere in the universe in nature, but they could look quite different (like with a different number of neutrons in the nucleus - a different isotype).

What the point is of studying this kind of thing is another question. It's important to remember, though, that a lot of great discoveries have been made with no practical application in mind, by scientists working for the joy of discovery. Where would we be without Teflon, for instance?

By robbie21 — On Aug 26, 2011

I'm not sure I understand how it can be an element if it does not occur in nature. How does it really then "count"? I mean, we know what lead is, for instance, because we can isolate it and study it. What's the point of making up elements in the lab?

By miriam98 — On Aug 26, 2011

@Mammmood - The article says that it’s a super heavy element. Perhaps, based on where it appears in the periodic table, atomic mass might be something that scientists find interesting in and itself.

But I do agree that even if they found applications for it, the difficulty of producing it would make it impractical to bring to market.

By Mammmood — On Aug 25, 2011

This is an interesting introduction. I guess it’s not clear at this point what the practical applications for this element are, a problem made worse by the fact that it can only be produced in the lab.

The article says that scientists simply like a good challenge; I suppose their curiosity is more theoretical than anything else at this point.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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