It's taken close to a decade of experimentation, but now, a team of Japanese researchers claims to have succeeded in creating element 113, a superheavy synthetic element thought to reside toward the bottom reaches of the periodic table of elements. If the results are confirmed, the team could be granted the privilege of naming the element (which currently goes by "ununtrium") before it is officially added to the periodic table.
Since 2003, the Japanese team, led by Kosuke Morita, has been bombarding a bismuth target with a beam of zinc atoms at RIKEN's Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science in Saitama, near Tokyo. Their goal was to fuse the atomic nuclei of these elements to produce an atom with 113 protons and 165 neutrons in its nucleus.
This fusion is extremely unlikely. Over nine years, the beam has been switched on for a total of 553 days, during which time 130 quintillion (1.3 × 1020) atoms of zinc have been fired at the bismuth target. Indeed, says Morita, the team knew that success would be unlikely from the start: they calculated that they would see only 3–6 successes in every 100 quintillion attempts. [emphasis mine]
According to Van Noorden, Morita and his team may have to wait some time before their discovery is confirmed. The observation of superheavy elements like 113 is incredibly difficult, and the approval process for such findings notoriously bureaucratic. If the researchers' discovery is approved, it would be the first artificial element to be discovered in East Asia, and the first to be named by Japanese researchers. What sort of name might we expect? "Japonium" is reportedly the current front runner.
Read more about the researchers' work, and the process of verifying their findings, over at Nature.