85-year-old Yuri Oganessia, the lead physicist of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Research in Russia, has been responsible for adding new elements to the periodic table since 1956. Adding 9 new elements in his lifetime, Yuri has had more of an impact of on the periodic table than anyone, including the U.S, Japan, and Germany.
Elements are discovered by smashing a beam of light atoms into a target of heavy atoms, heavy atoms have the atomic number of 80 or higher (which is the number of protons around the nucleus). If you do this every day, you may just create an element. Due to the nature of atoms, it’s very hard to create new elements because the heavier the element, the faster it decays.
To combat this problem, Yuri created ‘cold fusion’ in order to create heavy elements. Cold fusion is a nuclear reaction that occurs near room temperature, which is much safer compared to ‘hot fusion’ which usually takes place in stars. Flerov scientists also discovered hot fusion when needing to create even heavier periodic elements, such as elements 115, 116, and 117.
Approximately one new element is created every 3 years, which was halted in 2010 but resumed in 2016. The newest elements to appear on the tables are Nihonium (Nh) for Element 113, Moscovium (Mc) for Element 115, Tennessee (Ts) for Element 117, and Oganesson (Og) for Element 118. Yuri has expanded the table from 7 rows to now 8. If you have to memorize every element on the table, I genuinely feel bad for you.
In the end, though, the search for new elements is its own reward, “There’s a majesty to increasing the number of protons,” Karpov, a Flerov researcher, says. “It’s natural to come to a limit” and try to push the boundaries. “Sometimes it is good to say you did something first.”