How do Scientists Discover New Chemical Elements?

With time the periodic table is expanding, but that will not be happening if scientists are not spending enough time in research. The discovery of new elements takes time and is not an easy task. That is why nuclear scientists are spending hours, days, and weeks in research.

You might be doing your Degree or Masters in Chemistry and would like to major in the discovery of new elements. It is a good thing to do. Therefore, before you become one, you will need to write an expository essay. That is usually to showcase your ability to explain a point to your readers.

Therefore, the following are how scientists discover new chemical elements.

Bombardment of Two Light Elements

Currently, new chemical elements that are under discovery or have been discovered are known as heavy elements or Super-heavy elements. They have an atomic number of one hundred and above. That means that such elements have 100 or more protons in their nuclei. To proof that such elements exist, it must decay as they have weak forces.

Let us look at the history of heavy elements like elements with atomic number 101 to 109 in the periodic table.

The US, Russia, and Germany have been on the forefront to claim that they are the ones who made discoveries of these elements. The Germans say they researched in GSI research laboratory in Darmstadt. The US did theirs in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory while Russia was at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research.

The IUPAC and Iupap for chemistry and physics respectively had to come through to solve this matter. They led to the formation of the Transfermium Working Group in 1991. It was responsible for dissolving all doubts about these elements. Successfully in 1997, they published all the elements from 101 to 109 with their symbols and names.

As of now, we are at element 118, known as Oganesson. Whose discovery was through the method used in certifying chemical elements 101 to 109. The invention of new heavy elements is due to the task force created by Iupac and Iupap in 2017, known as the Joint Working Group. Its formation was to look at the 1991 criteria of discovering new heavy elements.

Some of the members of the task force include:

  • Oak Ridge National Laboratories from the US
  • Riken from Japan
  • GSI from Germany
  • LBNL from the US
  • JINR from Russia

So, to create new heavy chemical elements, they had to bombard two light elements. One chemical element is called the target because it is stationary, while the other is called Projectile. Because it is accelerated via a cyclotron or other particle accelerator to the target.

When they come together, they don’t last for long as they decay fast. To create an atom of a new element, it will take even months.

Radioactive Decay

It is another way a scientist uses to prove the existence of new chemical elements. Radioactive decay is another way of proofing their life. That is because heavy elements are unstable, and they quickly disintegrate.

During the radioactive decay, they will lose an alpha particle to become a light chemical element. When the alpha particle is lost, the element’s, the atomic number decreases by two. For instance, heavy element 114’s whose mass number is 289 constitution was significant of alpha particles. During its discovery, it decayed to element 112 then 110 and finally 108 with mass numbers 285, 281, and 277, respectively.

That shows that element 114 once was in existence.


The time taken to discover new elements is not an easy task. Scientists must toil to come up with such discoveries. Therefore, the above are some methods scientists use to prove the existence of new chemical elements in the periodic table.