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Uploaded:2014-05-11
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Hank introduces you to the latest element to be created -- and explains why we make them in the first place -- plus the science of exploding whales. It's a thing, people.
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I’m Hank Green, welcome to SciShow News, where it’s starting to seem like: another year, another element!
 
Hardcore SciShow News hounds will know that new elements are constantly being created -- if fleetingly -- and then tested, and verified, in labs around the world.
 
In 2012, two new elements were added to the periodic table: flerovium, otherwise known as number 114, and livermorium, 116. And just last August, a team in Germany managed to produce element 115.
 
Now, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have confirmed the creation of yet another element, with the atomic number 117. 
 
They started by creating an isotope of the element berkelium -- that alone took a year and a half -- and then bombarded it with isotopes of calcium, until … blammo.
 
Now, all of the elements after uranium, which is atomic number 92, are unstable, which means that their nuclei don’t have the proper balance of neutrons and protons. So unstable nuclei can break apart, or decay, in an effort to re-balance those numbers of protons and neutrons.
 
And the new, super-heavy elements that are made using particle colliders -- the ones that have atomic numbers over 110 -- all decay in a matter of milliseconds. 
 
So...why do we keep making them?! 
 
I'll be honest: partly, it's prestige. It's not a coincidence that 15 new elements were discovered during the Cold War, and some of them have names like 'Americium.'
 
But creating these super-heavy elements also teaches us about the structure of the atomic nucleus. 
 
We now have reason to believe that protons and neutrons are arranged in shells, just like electrons, and that some of these shell configurations are more stable than others. 
 
And this has led many chemists to believe that there’s a so-called 'island of stability,' where isotopes of super-heavy elements might have half-lives of anywhere from between thirty seconds, to several million years.
 
If you’ve ever played Call of Duty then you probably don’t need me to explain all this.
 
But in real-lifey, science-non-fiction, we haven't managed to make any of these stable, super-heavy atoms yet. 
 
In the future, we probably will. 
 
Because, keep in mind, just one proton makes the difference between, like, gold and mercury, which are pretty different. Try making a Swiss watch out of mercury, or a thermometer with gold. We can't even imagine what properties these new, man-made elements might have.
 
 
Meanwhile, a different kind of discovery in Canada has taught us an unexpected lesson -- about the science of exploding whales.
 
Two weeks ago, the carcass of a dead blue whale washed ashore near the town of Trout, Newfoundland -- all 25 meters of it -- and it quickly began to inflate to twice its original, living girth.
 
It didn't explode. But it probably would have, if somebody had come along and poked a hole in its gut. 
 
People have observed whale carcasses exploding before, forming spectacular showers of blood and viscera. 
 
Probably the most famous whale-explosion is the one that had the most witnesses -- In 2004, a dead, 60-ton sperm whale was being trucked to a lab for study, going through the busy streets of Tainan, Taiwan, when… thar she blew.
 
So, why does it happen?
 
Well, when a while dies, its viscera start to decompose. As its guts rot, the bacteria that do the rotting produce huge volumes of gases, like methane and hydrogen sulfide. 
 
This happens to most animals that have guts. You're probably going to bloat as well when you die.
 
By the way, I probably should have told you to not eat anything while watching this episode.
 
What's special about whales is they're big, which means there’s a lot of stuff to rot. And remember we’re talking about a blue whale here -- the biggest animal in the HISTORY OF EVER, can come to 200 tons in weight.
 
They're also watertight: which, they kind of have to be, to keep their insides on the inside when they dive deep underwater. 
 
They have a thick layer of blubber that keeps them from...popping … under the intense pressures of the deep. So as animals go, a whale makes a particularly good balloon.
 
And that gas being produced inside the whale can build up to around two to three atmospheres of pressure! 
 
The rules of fluid dynamics dictate that the gas wants to escape by the path of least resistance. And since it's the whale's guts we’re talking about, the path of least resistance is going to be out its mouth...or…possibly the other end.
 
But if you were to cut a hole in the whale before it deflates...yeah, the whale is gonna explode all up in your face.
 
So, I don’t know why the people of the World need me to say this, but stay away from dead things. Don't poke holes in corpses. Any corpses, not just whale corpses. But especially whale corpses.
 
Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow News, brought to you by Audible, which is giving away a free audiobook to SciShow viewers! If you go to audible.com/scishow, you can download “A Tale of 7 Elements" - one of the best science books of 2013. In 1917, we figured out how to count up elements by atomic number 1 to 92, but seven of them were missing. A Tale of Seven Elements will lead you through a scientific mystery like no other. You can also get, like practically any other book and listen to it any time for free. So go to audible.com/scishow!
 
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