Last October 22, at 9:29 a.m., a bell rang in the main office of Yuri Oganessian’s lab in Dubna, north of Moscow. In a cramped warren partitioned by bookshelves and whiteboards, 12 nuclear physicists sat at desks stacked high with papers or strewn with snacks. Across the hall, a rebuilt but venerable cyclotron was flinging calcium atoms against a bit of foil at 67 million miles an hour. The chime of the little bell signaled that one of those collisions had worked: A new atom was born. At that moment it was the only atom of element 117 on Earth, and only the 19th ever to exist. The others had also been made in this lab, and all had quickly vanished. After a fraction of a second, this one was gone too.
Dubna, which sits on the Volga River, was carved out of a forest as a new city of science after World War II. Georgy Flerov, who had helped launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons research, founded the laboratory that Oganessian later took over. Early in the war Flerov had noticed that the flow of articles about radioactive elements from American and German scientists had suddenly stopped. He suspected they were building atomic bombs, and he wrote to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in April 1942. Stalin charged Russian physicists with building a bomb too. For his part Flerov was rewarded with a car, a dacha, and, most significant, the lab in Dubna. There he focused on the hunt for new elements.
Everything you know and love on Earth, and everything you don’t, is built of elements—the different types of atoms. They’re billions of years old, most of them, scattered into space by the big bang or exploding stars, then incorporated into the newborn Earth, then endlessly recycled as they moved from rock to bacteria, president, or squirrel. In the late 1800s another Russian, Dmitry Mendeleyev, tried to make sense of them all, grouping them by mass and other attributes in his periodic table. Later scientists traced Mendeleyev’s order to the structure of atoms. Each element got a number: the number of protons in its atomic nucleus.From the May issue of National Geographic magazine
Warmth will continue to build over much of the eastern United States into next week, ahead of what could be a major snowstorm for parts of the Central states.
Bitter cold and snow lashed Italy and the Balkan Peninsula during the first half of January, and more inclement weather is expected this week.
Germany will endure its longest stretch of cold weather so far this season.
Soaking rain will elevate the flood threat over the southern United States late this week, followed by a severe weather threat this weekend.
A new round of storms will bring locally drenching rain and heavy mountain snow, with possible flooding and travel disruptions, in California.
A return of storms to the northwestern United States will deliver drenching rain and wintry travel hazards this week.