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What is Ununtrium?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Ununtrium is the temporary name for specific chemical element classified among the transactinide elements on the periodic table of elements. It is identified on the periodic table with the symbol "Uut," and it has an atomic number of 113. This makes it among the heaviest elements known to man, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a superheavy element. Like other transactinides, ununtrium is extremely unstable, making it very difficult to observe in the laboratory, and it cannot be found in nature. As a result, scientists must use expensive and time-consuming techniques to synthesize it in order to study it.

Characteristics and Production

This element is believed to be metallic in nature, and it might share some chemical properties with thallium; some scientists refer to it as eka-thallium. Given the general patterns that govern the periodic table, scientists can also estimate that ununtrium probably is a very reactive element, much like sodium. This element also is radioactive, like other transactinides.

Ununtrium is synthetically produced by first creating element 115, ununpentium, of which ununtrium is a decay product. A number of isotopes of ununtrium have been identified, with half lives ranging from milliseconds to minutes. The instability of this element and its isotopes makes it challenging to study. Scientists have hoped that through continued synthetic production of the element, they might be able to identify more stable forms.

Discovery and Naming

This element was jointly discovered in 2003 by teams of scientists in the United States and Russia. In 2004, Japanese researchers managed to synthesize and observe the element as well, making it the first synthetic element to be produced in Japan. The name "ununtrium" is temporary until the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) decides who gets credit for its discovery and the honor of suggesting a permanent name. "Ununtrium" is a systematic element name based on its atomic number; “un un tri” means “one one three,” and “-ium” is a standard suffix for chemical elements. It also is called element 113 (E113).

In 2011, the IUPAC determined that the criteria for discovery of element 113 had not been met, so the element was not given a permanent name. The Russian team had proposed “becquerelium” in honor of noted French physicist Henry Becquerel. The Japanese researchers had proposed “japonium” or “rikenium” in honor of their own research. Element 113 might be without a permanent name for a while; some elements have had temporary names for several decades while their nomenclature is sorted out.

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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 nony — On Dec 04, 2011

@allenJo - Practical applications come later. A lot of research in academia is purely theoretical in nature from what I understand. Just read any peer reviewed scientific publication and you’ll know what I mean.

Just because there is no immediate practical application doesn’t mean that there won’t be uses down the road. Usually one theoretical discovery will lead to another theoretical discovery, and so on, until they find a practical and commercial use. So I think the research is worthwhile as one step in the process at least for now.

By allenJo — On Dec 03, 2011

@everetra - If this element is unstable, cannot be found in nature and cannot easily be researched in the laboratory, why bother studying it?

I guess that’s the thing that is lost upon me. I tend to think that scientific discoveries should be pursued with a view to their practical applications, and I don’t see any such applications mentioned here.

The closest we get is reading that the scientists hope to learn more about the stable forms of the element, but I am not sure why.

By everetra — On Dec 03, 2011

I find it humorous that scientists are fussing over what name to give an element on the periodic table. It seems to be a somewhat political process if you ask me, with each side jockeying to get some sort of credit to the discovery.

It proves, however, that even in the scientific community, there is kind of a “pride of ownership” thing going on. I see this at work all the time; the first person with an idea wants it to be known that it was his idea, almost giving that person a patent on a concept.

I am probably over analyzing but the whole thing strikes me as kind of strange here. Personally, I think the scientists should just keep the temporary name of ununtrium element, making that the permanent designation. It sounds official enough to me.

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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