A team of American, New Zealander and Norwegian researchers recently relied on computer simulations to predict several characteristics of oganesson, the heaviest element of the periodic table. And it turns out that the element is even stranger than expected.
In 2002, a group of American and Russian scientists managed to create an atom of oganesson, the heaviest element of the periodic table (its nucleus is composed of 118 protons). Named after Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian, the element was notoriously difficult to study because of its short life (less than a millisecond). For this reason, most of its fundamental characteristics have been determined using atomic calculations. In this new effort, the researchers applied several physics techniques to derive predictions about other characteristics of the super-heavy noble gas.
These works, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, reveal a very strange behavior, very different from other noble gases. The researchers here have calculated how the electrons (which revolve around the nucleus) and the neutrons and protons (inside the nucleus) behave in oganesson. Normally, electrons orbit in different layers (a little like satellites that revolve around the Earth at different altitudes). But the element does not seem to be structured as expected. Unlike xenon and radon, two other heavy gases, its electrons are not arranged in layers, but in a completely random, almost indistinguishable manner, creating a sort of electron gas around the nucleus. According to the researchers’ calculations, this same behavior also applies to neutrons inside the super-heavy nucleus.
These results could have a significant impact on our understanding of this section of the periodic table. We are talking here about deep quantum physics. These results could for example mean that ooganesson is finally much more chemically reactive than the other noble gases. Another possible consequence would be that the oesoms could agglomerate into a solid at room temperature, rather than bouncing off each other as they would usually do in a gas.
Now, keep in mind that these are just computer simulations, albeit very complex. But the element is so difficult to produce and its life is so short that researchers can not do otherwise. Now that we can predict its structure and properties, scientists will soon be able to set up experiments to test these hypotheses.