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What is Ununquadium?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Ununquadium is a radioactive chemical element classified among the transactinides on the periodic table of elements. It is one of the heaviest elements known to man, and it cannot be found in nature; ununquadium must be synthetically produced in the lab for scientists who wish to study it. This element is also extremely short-lived, rapidly decaying into more stable elements, typically within seconds of being synthesized. As with other elements in this situation, ununquadium has no current commercial uses, and this is unlikely to change, as even if stable isotopes can be produced, they will be extremely expensive and thus not terribly practical.

The chemical properties of this element are not well understood, since it is so difficult to study. It may share some traits with lead, and it certainly shares the trait of extreme instability with other transactinides. Several isotopes of this element have been synthesized and observed, albeit for very brief periods of time. It has an atomic number of 114, and it is currently identified on the periodic table of elements with the symbol Uuq; this may change after an official name is decided upon for this element.

Credit for the discovery of this element will probably go to researchers in Dubna, Russia, who produced it in 1998 by bombarding plutonium with calcium isotopes. It took another year for the scientists to repeat and confirm their findings, leading the publication and acceptance of the element in 1999. If the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) determines that these researchers deserve the credit for the discovery, they will be offered the honor of suggesting a name.

Ununquadium is a temporary name which is based on the element's atomic number; ununqua means “one one four” in Latin. Such names are typically used for newly discovered elements until credit for their discovery can be sorted out, ensuring that scientists use the same terminology worldwide. No names have been proposed for this element yet; common element names honor famous figures in science or their location of discovery, although “dubnium” is already taken.

When ununquadium is produced in the lab, scientists only have a few seconds to make observations about it. This requires careful strategic planning to ensure that this time is well utilized; typically a well coordinated scientific team is involved. Researchers hope that by exploring new ways to synthetically produce elements, they may be able to find an "island of stability," a set of more stable isotopes which could be studied for extended periods.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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 Emilski — On Sep 11, 2011

I don't know a whole lot about chemistry, but the article says that ununquadium was made by combining plutonium and calcium. How does this whole process work? Are there any other combinations of elements that can do the same thing?

Also, what makes something radioactive?

By cardsfan27 — On Sep 11, 2011

@stl156 - I sort of agree, but like a lot of science, you can never tell what will be important until you need it. Organizations are paying chemists to research these elements, so I guess someone thinks it is important.

Maybe in the future processes will come along that let us make the elements in larger batches to the point where they can be useful, but we need to lay the ground work now in case that day does come.

By stl156 — On Sep 10, 2011

It's always amazing to see the changes in chemistry since I was in school.

I looked at the periodic table the other day, and I'm pretty sure that when I was in school the periodic table stopped at element 110 or so. Now it goes all the way across to 118.

My question is what the purpose is behind creating these new, unstable elements. As far as I understand it, all of the natural elements have been discovered, and everything else is just formed by crashing two different elements together to make the new element. After it's made, then the new element immediately disappears.

The article even mentions that there isn't a use for ununquadium and there probably won't be, so what is the purpose of spending valuable time and money studying it?

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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