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Chemists unravel properties of hassium

Christoph Duellmann of Bern University investigates hassium at the Paul Scherrer Institute. PSI

Scientists in Switzerland have succeeded in determining the chemical properties of a new element in the periodic table.

This content was published on May 21, 2001 - 18:18

Hassium, which is named after the German state of Hessen, is the heaviest element investigated so far.

Although German physicists proved the existence of hassium back in the 1980s, scientists have been unable to determine its chemical properties until now.

"The reason why this is so difficult has to do with its short half-life," said project leader, Professor Heinz Gäggeler, from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen.

"This element is really very short-lived. It lives little more than ten seconds. The second problem is it can be produced only in very tiny amounts - about one or two atoms a day."

Hassium is a member of the same group in the periodic table as osmium, a heavy metal which combines with oxygen to form a gaseous compound called osmium tetroxide.

Gäggeler said his team worked on the theory that hassium should behave in a similar fashion to osmium and form hassium tetroxide when combined with oxygen.

Using sensitive detectors, the team searched for gaseous products at temperatures as low as minus 170 degrees centigrade.

Hassium - or element 108 - was discovered in 1984 at the Institute of Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany.

by Vincent Landon

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