Ununpentium is a radioactive chemical element classified among the transactinides on the periodic table of elements. This element is among the heaviest of elements known to man; the transactinides are sometimes called “super heavy elements,” in a reference to their high atomic numbers. Because this element is so unstable, it is not readily found in nature; it must be synthesized in a laboratory. As you might imagine, the process involved in synthesizing this element is extremely complex and quite expensive, making commercial uses for this element unlikely.
The precise chemical properties of this element, sometimes called eka-bismuth, are not known. Like other transactinides, it is highly unstable, and exists for only a few seconds at a time before decaying into the form of more stable elements. Researchers hope to synthesize ununpentium isotopes in the so-called “island of stability,” with a number of protons and neutrons which will allow these isotopes to be more stable, potentially creating isotopes which last long enough for more extensive research and experimentation.
This element has been temporarily dubbed “ununpentium” by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The element's temporary name is what is known as a systematic element name, meaning that it follows a system established by the IUPAC to standardize temporary names for elements for the purpose of simplicity. The systematic element naming system utilizes the atomic numbers of elements to name them; ununpentium is element 115, and ununpent means “one one five” in a mix of Latin and Greek. When the IUPAC determines which lab deserves credit for the discovery of this element, the lab will be given the honor of proposing a permanent name. For now, it is known as Uup on the periodic table.
The discovery of this element was announced in 2004 by a joint group of American and Russian scientists working at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Dubna in Russia. Ununpentium was synthetically produced by bombarding an americium isotope with calcium, producing a few atoms of a short-lived isotope which survived long enough for the researchers to confirm their presence. Additional experiments confirming the existence of ununpentium have been successfully conducted by both labs.
Research on the super heavy elements can be extremely frustrating, but also greatly rewarding. The difficulties involved in their production are a big motivator for some researchers, who enjoy the challenge of working on the cutting edge of the periodic table.