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Copernicium Is A Strange Element Indeed

OK, let’s talk about something with pretty much no practical relevance whatsoever: the element copernicium. That’s #112, just below mercury in the periodic table, and its longest-lived isotope has a half-life of 29 seconds. Which is actually pretty impressive – that’s one of the longest-lived elements up there at those atomic weights, and it’s long enough that if you look smart you can actually study its properties and its chemistry a bit. Why would anyone want to do that (“Because I have a grant” is not the answer we’re looking for here)?

Well, it’s because of how strange mercury is. Like the properties of water, the properties of mercury actually have come to seem weirder and weirder to me as I learn more chemistry and physics. (This feeling isn’t limited to chemical properties, by the way – for example, when I was a kid, I took things like elephants and giraffes for granted. Sure, there they were, that’s a giraffe all right. Now they seem pretty close to extraterrestrial; I’m amazed to see them walking around). But water is just a bizarre substance in every way, a freakish sticky mass of hydrogen bonds, and mercury’s not far behind it. Think about it: what is a metallic element down there in that row of the periodic table doing as a liquid at room temperature? Not even solidifying until cold-front-in-Alberta temperatures, at that? It’s freakish, and the explanation for it is rather unnerving, too.

For something to be a gas at a given temperature, the forces that would otherwise condense it to a liquid state have to be weak enough to allow it, and for something to be a liquid, the forces that would otherwise make it a solid have to be weak enough for that not to happen, either. So pure mercury being a liquid at room temperature means that the interatomic attractions between mercury atoms must be abnormally small.

Some of the properties of mercury (and of copernicium) are due to “lanthanide shielding“, and that is at least understandable in a classical mental-picture way. The lanthanides (and higher elements beyond them) have atoms with smaller radii than you’d predict from just following the trends earlier in the periodic table. But that’s because those atom sizes have to do with the attraction of the outermost electrons to the nucleus (negative and positive charges), and that attraction is partly “shielded” by the inner electrons in the way. That effect diminishes as you lay on more electrons, though: the d and f electron orbitals are progressively less effective at shielding, and the lanthanide elements generally get smaller as you go up. This same effect is responsible, among other things, for making hafnium a lot more like zirconium, one row up, than you’d figure it would be, and separating out really pure hafnium took quite a bit of work.

But the bigger effect is relativistic. That’s actually a notable example of Paul Dirac being completely wrong about something in physics – he had stated back in 1929 (PDF here if you’re up for it!) that relativistic corrections to quantum mechanics were of “no importance” because they would apply only to very high-speed particles (that is, those moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light). But as it turns out, the inner electrons of the heavier elements are moving at such speeds (they get faster as the positively charged nucleus gets bigger and more charged), and this has effects out to the chemically important outer electrons as well. For one thing, relativistic particles are heavier, and this actually shrinks the atomic radius of the heavier elements still more and has complex effects on the various orbitals.

In the 1960s and 1970s these effects began to be more appreciated. Mercury’s outermost electrons were believed to be much more involved than they would normally be in interactions with the nucleus, and thus much less involved in attraction with other mercury atoms. But it wasn’t until 2013 that Peter Schwerdtfeger (Massy Univ., New Zealand) and colleagues at other centers were able to nail down that the exact contribution to mercury’s melting point. (I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve long thought that a book titled “Quantum Mechanics: A Hand-Waving Approach” would sell quite well in the textbook market). Without relativistic corrections, mercury’s melting point is predicted to be 82C, rather than -39. (These calculations, direct quantum-mechanical influence on bulk melting point, are extremely painful, which is why it took until the 21st century for hardware and algorithms to be up to the task).

And now Schwerdtfeger and colleagues have turned to copernicium. Those effects that make mercury’s outer electrons less attentive to the outside world would be predicted to be even stronger in copernicium, leading to predictions in the 1970s that it would be practically inert. But in 2008, experimental evidence came in that the element (which at the time was unnamed!) had more metallic character than expected, via interaction with a gold surface. The new calculations, though, which were presumably even more computationally intensive than those needed for mercury, strongly suggest that this result was due to dispersion forces. Copernicium, the authors believe, almost certainly has noble-gas characteristics and indeed may only barely be a liquid at room temperature (!) The new paper refers to it as a “relativistic noble liquid”, which is quite a weird category – it’s even more like mercury than mercury is.

Relativistic quantum effects are also the reason for gold being yellow and for lead-acid batteries being able to work at all (since we were discussing batteries around here the other day!) No one makes batteries out of tin, and that’s what lead would be like, electrochemically, if it weren’t for the relativistic changes. I find the whole intersection of the two fields very interesting – not least because this is special relativity crossing with quantum mechanics as opposed to general relativity (both of which get referred to commonly as just “relativity”) And there’s an interesting point: quantum mechanics predicts extremely counterintuitive and unusual phenomena, which have been observed exactly as predicted and to extraordinary levels of accuracy. Special relativity, likewise: it predicts wild things which have been experimentally verified from a great many different angles and in extreme detail. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the two get along fine. General relativity as well makes crazy-sounding predictions which also have stood up perfectly to every single experimental test, starting with the bending of light in the 1919 eclipse and going on to this day with the observation of gravitational waves. But general relativity and quantum mechanics. . .oh, boy.

When it comes to gravity, the two theories are completely incompatible, and there is no way to escape the conclusion that one or both of them must be seriously incomplete or even flat-out wrong about something important. There is no quantum theory of gravity as yet, despite huge amounts of brainpower being expended on the problem. A new understanding is out there somewhere, one that encompasses both of these hugely successful and powerful current theories and then shows something even larger and more powerful behind them both. And we don’t know what it is. The disputes about what the next physics will look like have attained near-religious intensity (and money has changed hands more than once), and who knows when it will ever be resolved?

57 comments on “Copernicium Is A Strange Element Indeed”

  1. Bob Seevers says:

    “Copernicium, the authors believe, almost certainly has nobel-gas characteristics”. I think that you meant noble-gas. Of course, given the time of year…

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Dang it, I thought I’d fixed that before hitting “publish”. Thanks!

    2. Joshua Cranmer says:

      You could say there’s a noble gas Nobel in the offerings…

      1. Mark Nicholas says:

        Well, you could, but others would say “in the offing.”

        1. Dave Bouknight says:

          I guess that’s better than saying “in the offal.”

  2. Isaac Newton says:

    “the two theories are completely incompatible”: I tried reading the wikipedia article you linked and, I have to admit, I don’t really follow what “nonrenormalizable” means.

    Derek, you’re good at explaining things: How are they incompatible? What’s an example?

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Man, that gets past my physics expertise. But as I understand it, one problem is that relativity does not provide for gravity to be quantized in any way at all, whereas quantum mechanics would indicate that it has to be.

      1. Anon says:

        @ Derck….am still confused! Can we use simple English?

        1. Pedwards says:

          Think of how electromagnetism is explained: in classical physics we talk about it as an electromagnetic field that fills the area, with electromagnetic force being caused by waves in the electromagnetic field, while in quantum mechanics we talk about individual particles (photons) that transfer the force. Both are entirely valid explanations, and the equations for one match up with the equations for the other. This is also true with the strong and weak nuclear forces.

          If you try to do this with gravity, things start breaking down. The relativity-based equations that describe gravitational fields and waves do not work well with the quantum mechanical equations that describe gravitons (particles that transfer gravitational force), and trying to work with both just gives nonsensical answers.

          1. Anon says:

            @ Pedwards……its crystal clear, now. Thanks!

      2. colintd says:

        There is the equally big problem that QM make assumptions about space-time being flat, whereas GR is all about it being distorted by mass/energy. This is where theories like quantum loop gravity come to the fore, as it combines the key elements of both theories. I also suspect the holographic principle will prove to be a key part of the eventual combination.

    2. Carl Pham says:

      I’m no high-energy physicist, so I may mangle this severely, but here’s my understanding:

      1. Relativity when applied to quantum mechanics allows for the existence of anti-particles, and therefore for the creation and annihilation of particles.

      2. Consider an isolated particle, like an electron. Given relativity, this electron can emit a photon, which can then turn into an electron-positron pair, which can then annihilate and turn back into a photon, which can be reabsorbed by the original electron. In principle nothing has happened, so the energy of the intermediate particles isn’t constrained by conservation of energy and can be anything. But the original particle interacts, if only briefly, with the infinite sea of virtual particles, and that results in changes to its observed properties (e.g. its charge when viewed from a distance). In order to calculate its observed properties, you need to calculate these “self” interactions.

      3. You can’t calculate the self interaction directly. What you can do is construct a perturbation theory calculation, an infinite sum of integrals that are in increasing order of complexity of interaction and, one would hope, decreasing order of size and importance. Unfortunately, some of these integrals can be shown to be infinite.

      4. Renormalization is how the infinity problem was solved. The ideas is that the physical parameters in the integrals, like the mass and charge of the electron, are not actually observable, but are “bare” quantities that get changed by the self interaction. Since the observable quantities are finite, and the self-interaction appears to be infinite, one may infer the bare quantities are also infinite, but neatly cancel the infinite self-interaction terms, to result in finite observable parameters. You can rewrite your perturbation series so that the infinities are clustered together, and the observed quantities separated out. There is some kind of plausible argument, with which I’m not familiar, that the infinities do cancel out. Hence this theory is “renormalizable,” meaning you can rewrite it in terms of observed parameters, not “bare” parameters, and the infinities can be grouped together and plausibly argued to cancel.

      5. Only vector fields, meaning fields with a one-dimensional list of components, are renormalizable. The Dirac field (describing the electron) and electromagnetic field are both vector fields, and so is the quantum field for every other particle or force.

      6. However, gravity is a tensor field. The meaning of a gravity field is the curvature of spacetime, meaning roughly what is the rate of change (derivative) of displacement with respect to location? (What we mean by a “curved” spacetime is that in some locations a given coordinate change results in a larger or smaller displacement than in other locations. It’s sort of like the fact that if I go from 30°W to 31°W in latitude along the Earth’s surface, the distance I go can be different, depending on what’s in the way — mountains, plains — because the Earth’s surface is curved.) But since both displacement and location are vectors (x,y,z,t components), the derivative is a tensor, e.g. with 16 components.

      7. Apparently when you write a perturbation theory sum of terms for a tensor field, you get an infinite number of infinite terms, which it’s not possible to group together into mutually cancelling groups. So, it’s not renormalizable, and the usual way of constructing a quantum field theory fails.

      It’s in this sense that QM and general relativity are said to be inconsistent. To be fair, it’s not that the theories are inconsistent on a conceptual basis (so far as I know), but that the basic procedure for constructing a quantum field theory out of a classical description fails with gravity. So one argument — the one that argues that general relativity is the theory that needs to change — is that we need to start with a different classical description of gravity. Enter strings, et cetera.

      Personally, I think it’s the other way around. I think Einstein was right, and the entire edifice of modern quantum field theory is wrong. I think someday someone even smarter than Einstein will come along and give us a *classical* theory for electrodynamics and all the other forces, and the infinity problem won’t even arise in the first place. But of course I have no rational basis for that belief, only a distaste for the whole renormalization hocus-pocus. (Which by the way was shared by the people who invented quantum field theory, e.g. Dirac and to some extent Feynman).

      1. PhysicistDave says:

        Carl Pham,

        I did my PhD in high-energy physics at Stanford, and, as an undergrad at Caltech, took classes from Richard Feynman.

        The Dirac field is not a vector field but a spinor field (the difference is a long story). And, perhaps the simplest way to describe curved spacetime is to say that Euclid was wrong.

        In general, you did pretty well. Yes, the problem with non-renormalizable theories is the infinities: you attempt to deal with some of them and you end up with even more. As to the details, the joke when I was a student was, “Someone should write up a comprehensible explanation of renormalization theory that at least two people can understand, preferably one of whom is the author!”

        All the best,

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

        1. zero says:

          Do you have an opinion on Ray Fleming’s theory that electromagnetism is a fundamental force but gravity is not?
          That is, the idea that gravity is essentially the result of the Casimir effect, inertial mass arises from Van der Waals forces (moving charges interacting with Plank resonators / virtual particles), and observable features of general relativity can be explained through some combination of the two?

          I left a link to one of his explainers if you’re interested.

          Regardless of anything else, the core theories of physics describe how things happen in astonishing detail. Even if we find a theory that can also tell us why, the existing theories remain useful.

          1. Skeptic says:

            If gravity is due to van der Waals effects rather than mass, wouldn’t you expect it to depend on the arrangement of matter rather than its amount?

            And doesn’t that conflict with experience?

    3. belg4mit says:

      PBS Space Time just did an episode (nominally about loop quantum gravity) which explains the incompatibilities between relativity and quantum quite well. See handle link.

  3. Uncle Al says:

    General relativity demands exact measurement and separability. Quantum mechanics demonstrates uncertainty and entanglement. Oil and water. QM is smug. Falsify both by chaining three published experiments with a carefully naughty molecule, SciFinder versus <this|curve fit|that>.
    … A modest proposal to end the squabbling Tar got Pedersen a Nobel Prize/Chemistry, didn’t it?

    1. MerLynn says:

      Water IS OIL with its atomic Structure at a different Frequency.
      I actually refute your entire theory as more than just fanciful, as given its destructive nature to the planet, its more like evil. Like to see DC (thats just electrons in your theory) applied to plain potable water ( thats HHO in your theory) and the water turns into OIL ! (thats Transmutation in your theory) Or in another video it just burns with a match? If that isnt impressive enough, you can in person, watch a car battery for power, turn runny concrete into drinking water as the opposite and equal reaction (we just reverse the electrodes) using the same setup as the water into oil vid here…. use the password wizzzard777
      Stick that in your Dissociative cognizance pipe and smoke it…. And thats but the tip of the iceberg for Real Star Tech. You have my email if you want to actually learn some real science for a change.

      1. loupgarous says:

        “Water IS OIL with its atomic Structure at a different Frequency.”

        I was wondering if you understood Uncle Al’s use of a common metaphor, but no. When you went off with

        “I actually refute your entire theory as more than just fanciful, as given its destructive nature to the planet, its more like evil. Like to see DC (thats just electrons in your theory) applied to plain potable water ( thats HHO in your theory) and the water turns into OIL ! (thats Transmutation in your theory) “

        It became clear you”d lost the plot.

  4. MattF says:

    ‘Renormalization’ is about dealing with singularities. The unfortunate news is that whole business of gravitational singularities (i.e., black holes) contradicts the basic agenda of quantum field theory. Much of the theoretical development in QFT just ignores singularities– and then demonstrates that the theory, somehow, works. It used to be mostly sophisticated handwaving, nowadays it’s more sophisticated. However that strategy, either in the hand-waving or sophisticated versions, just doesn’t work with gravity..

  5. Matthew says:

    Huh, not often I see someone I’ve met in one of your posts. Dr Schwerdtfeger was teaching theoretical chemistry at the University of Auckland when I was an undergraduate there, and a close friend did a summer project with him. He’s quite a character, and taught us that Lewis dot diagrams are properly called “flyshit chemistry”.

  6. Richard Zare says:

    “Like the properties of water, the properties of mercury actually have come to seem weirder and weirder to me as I learn more chemistry and physics”

    Speaking of water, I don’t think you posted on the recent Zare’s paper in PNAS showing spontaneous hydrogen peroxide generation from water if it’s simply sprayed in air into micron size droplets!

  7. Mad Chemist says:

    In regards to the question of why we would want to study Copernicium, is it correct to quote George Mallory and say “Because it’s there?”

    1. Scott says:

      Not an unreasonable answer.

      “Because SCIENCE!!!” is another one.

      Something that might be more likely to get you a grant is “Because the math indicates some extremely counter-intuitive properties that could indicate uses for [insert buzzword of the month]”

  8. An Old Chemist says:

    I know that it is an aside but I am posting it because I am really excited about it:

    Today, half-an-hour ago, for the first time, I heard Derek Lowe on NPR (in the Bay area), on the talk show ‘Science Friday.’ Derek and others were discussing the Alzheimer’s disease and in particular the beta-amyloid involvement in it. I am still shocked that Derek said that drug discovery companies better not work on AD because it will require a lot of $$$ and chances of success are slim, and instead they should work in other areas where they can make a bigger impact. Also, Derek put a figure of $500 million on a single company spending on an experimental AD drug in clinic.

    1. loupgarous says:

      Derek’s comments here on Alzheimer’s Disease include pretty much all serious recent attempts to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s. These big, $500 million drug development efforts center around the amyloid hypothesis, and there’s not much grounds for optimism in the clinical experience with, say, BACE inhibitors.

      There are other hypotheses that don’t involve amyloid as a potential causative agent, but so far it’s more correlation than causal evidence. “We notice that in people with (a certain disease), (fewer or more of them) get Alzheimer’s disease.” could be lifted from a number of abstracts of papers on what might cause AD.

      That’s the only light in the forest, but it’s not much light to see by.

      Suggested reading:

    2. loupgarous says:

      Given the non-return on investment in developing BACE inhibitors for AD, perhaps it’s time for more research on the natural history and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease before another round of massive drug development for that market.

      The same money could pay off well in more approvals for new drugs, and help with the critical issue – about 90 percent of new drugs never make it through clinical testing and gain regulatory approval. It’s better for patients and for the industry for more drugs to gain approval, earn profits, and make it possible for more drug development to take place, while the industry and academia put new AD drug development off until the AD disease process is better understood..

    3. KM says:

      Long-time fan of Derek’s blog. I missed the intro and only started listening halfway in. Then I heard words like “AD”, “amyloids”, “medicinal chemist”. I thought to myself, “could this actual be Derek Lowe?” Well turns out it is indeed yours truly. Congratulations on your NPR appearance! I hope people get to hear more of your insights in the media.

  9. dearieme says:

    Combining QM and GR: I recommend Greene’s “The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory”. He writes well. On the other hand he did persuade me, unintentionally, that it’s probably a dead end. Nothing testable emerged. And if anything testable had emerged since he wrote the book no doubt the newspapers would have alerted me.

  10. f3s3r says:

    Old Mikolaj Kopernik also founded the first theories of money in economics. Interesting guy.

  11. rhodium says:

    And speaking of odd elements, today’s xkcd has the best chemistry joke I have ever seen.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It has been previously discussed In The Pipeline, but there is a question regarding when atoms become bulk matter. Mercury atoms do not have the same properties as a blob of liquid Hg. In the case of Hg, there were some calculations years ago that you need a cluster of around 30+ Hg to form something that starts to display the properties of bulk Hg. The same sort of question comes up with molecules and their bulk matter, too. From a modeling perspective (depending on whose model you’re using), you need around 100 water molecules (in your model) to start to observe the properties of bulk water. (There has probably been a lot of progress in the modeling of Hg, H2O, and everything else but I do not have lit access. Have the numbers (~30 Hg; ~100 H2O) changed? And how many Coperniciums do you need to observe bulk Cn?

    Maybe I’m too tired, but I don’t get the xkcd. In a conventional periodic table, there’s a big gap (table layout space, not atomic or chemical space) between H and He (and Be and B; Mg and Al; etc.). What am I missing?

    1. dearieme says:

      It’s just a joke. Though obviously terribly nonPC because the dippy chemist is presented as female. (Can I still say “female”?)

      1. Anonymous says:

        I have the chem background but I didn’t get the joke in xkcd. Taking a traditional “linear” approach, to fill in the gap between H (1 proton, 1e) and He (2p, 2e, optional neutrons), you would need Atom1.3 (1.3p, 1.3e, [n]), Atom1.6 (1.6p, 1.6e, [n]) and so on. Hmmm, … maybe you CAN stuff some new elements in there with some strange quark arithmetic? p = up up down; n = up down down; e + some quarks = fractional e? Anyway, now I can see some humor in the xkcd, but it’s not one of his best.

        I was hoping that my question about “How many atoms are needed to have the properties of the bulk material?” would have generated more comments than the xkcd.

    2. David Edwards says:


      That gap in the periodic table is the result of electron arrangements in atoms (serious hat on – I might cover some comedy later). The lighter elements only have s and p electron orbitals, arising from the application of Pauli’s Exclusion Principle to the quantum numbers the electrons possess. Namely, no two electrons in an atom can have identical quantum numbers.

      An electron in an atom has four quantum numbers associated with it. The first of these is the principal quantum number, denoted by ‘n’. This determines which of the orbital levels an electron occupies, and can take integer values, minimum value 1. The second of these is the azimuthal quantum number, denoted by ‘l’. The values this can take depend upon n – basically, l can take any integer value between 0 and (n-1). If n=1, then l has to be 0, but if n=2, then l can take the values 0 or 1. This quantum number denotes the orbital type an electron occupies – 0 for s orbitals, 1 for p orbitals, 2 for d orbitals and so on.

      Next, there is the magnetic quantum number, denoted by m. This can take integer values ranging from -l to +l (those are small letter ‘l’s, just in case your font makes them look like ‘1’s). Finally, there is the spin quantum number, denoted by ‘s’, which, for historical reasons, is a half-integer for fermions like electrons, and can take the values +½ or -½.

      Those numbers are usually written in the order (n, l, m, s), and, through a suitably complex computation, are related to the energy level an electron occupies in an atom.

      So, for n=1, you have two possibilities for an electron’s quantum numbers, namely:

      (1, 0, 0, +½)
      (1, 0, 0, -½)

      The first two elements, hydrogen and helium, only have electrons for which n=1.

      For n=2, life starts to become a little more interesting. There are now 8 possibilities for an electron with n=2, viz:

      (2, 0, 0, +½) – s orbital (l = 0)
      (2, 0, 0 , -½)
      (2, 1, -1, +½) -p orbital (l = 1)
      (2, 1, -1, -½)
      (2, 1, 0, +½)
      (2, 1, 0, -½)
      (2, 1, 1, +½)
      (2, 1, 1, -½)

      These electrons start appearing in the elements lithium through to neon.

      Now, life starts to become complicated. For n=3, there are no less than 18 possibilities for an electron. These are as follows:

      (3, 0, 0, +½) – s orbital
      (3, 0, 0, -½)
      (3, 1, -1, +½) – p orbital
      (3, 1, -1, -½)
      (3, 1, 0, +½)
      (3, 1, 0, -½)
      (3, 1, 1, +½)
      (3, 1, 1, -½)
      (3, 2, -2, +½) – d orbital
      (3, 2, -2, -½)
      (3, 2, -1, +½)
      (3, 2, -1, -½)
      (3, 2, 0, +½)
      (3, 2, 0, -½)
      (3, 2, 1, +½)
      (3, 2, 1, -½)
      (3, 2, 2, +½)
      (3, 2, 2, -½)

      Now, the elements ranging from sodium to argon, see the appearance of the 3s and 3p electrons from the above set. But now life starts to get weird. Because after argon, potassium and calcium contain 4s electrons (n=4), but when you jump to scandium, the 3d electrons from the above set start putting in an appearance after the 4s electrons of potassium and calcium. That gap between the two columns of alkali and alkaline earth metals on the left hand side of the periodic table, and the elements such as boron et al, arises because the elements between calcium and gallium (scandium, titanium, and so on up to zinc) add d orbital electrons not seen in any of the lighter elements, which have interesting effects upon the chemistry of those elements (known as the d-block elements for that reason).

      Basically, the periodic table in its modern form reflects electron configurations as determined by quantum mechanics, which start to become pretty convoluted for n=4 and beyond. Which is why the lanthanides and actinides (which exhibit the presence of f orbital electrons – you can develop a serious facial tic trying to keep track of all of these) have their own peculiarities, and are located collectively in their own groupings. At some point, the even more convoluted g orbitals will start putting in an appearance, and these will affect the chemistry of the elements containing them.

      So, that’s the serious hat material covered. The XKCD joke centres upon filling the imaginary spaces above the d-block elements.

      After that, I’ll get back to debugging JavaScript, which is probably a good deal easier than tracking the above for elements beyond about atomic number 40 …

  13. Free Wheeler says:

    “No one makes batteries out of tin,”

    We have tin-lithium batteries right now. One exists in my E-scooter from 2018, and the tin addition is how it gets almost a full charge in 5 minutes.

    1. Romain says:

      I think he meant tin-sulfuric acid, as in common lead-sulfuric acid

  14. Kelvin Stott says:

    Personally, I think that quantum gravity can be resolved by modeling uncertainty as an intrinsic property of space-time itself, rather than the particles within it. This would get rid of the renormalization problem.

    Also, general relativity theory should be modified to allow for negative mass/energy to make gravity a symmetrical force with both attractive and repulsive versions like the other three forces. This would explain dark energy that causes expansion of the universe to accelerate.

    I actually sent a letter explaining this idea to Stephen Hawking when I was just 17 back in 1989, which predicted the existence of dark energy and accelerating expansion of the universe 10 years before it was discovered. He actually replied with a short typed but signed letter to say this was theoretically impossible because it would mean that the Euclidean geometry of space-time is “open”. I think that letter is still in my parents’ house somewhere.

  15. dearieme says:

    O/T, Derek, but perhaps of interest? It’s about the sort of error that makes you worry whether any of your own work might have suffered from a similar problem.

  16. Brandon says:

    understood and please take this question seriously…Where does this idea that Element 115, and it being harnessed as an energy source for gravity propulsion fit in here?

    I personally think these scientific problems have been solved by scientists and been marked as a state secret.

    1. Jack says:

      I am curious too. I know that comes from Bob Lazar and crazy alien conspiracy theories but I agree it most likely is government secrets and not aliens. Everything science cannot explain seems like magic until it can.

    2. loupgarous says:

      If you’re looking for possible ways that “gravity propulsion” might be plausible, super-heavy elements aren’t where you look first (Bob Lazar’s memoirs notwithstanding). That would be the work of Eugene Podkletnov. So far, we don’t have the tech for Alcubierre-Froning warp drives.

  17. eub says:

    Can anyone explain what’s special about the zinc group specifically, that this relativistic effect is making Hg and Cn so low-melting-point compared to anything else around?

    Well. Maybe the question should be, what makes the heavy Zn-group atoms so disinterested in each other that Hg would melt at only 82 C before the relativistic effects?

    1. Andrew says:

      I’m just guessing but is it something to do with them having full d shells? Do the transition metal atoms bond through sharing d electrons, something that the zinc group metals couldn’t do? Zn, Cd and Hg all have much lower melting points than the d block metals in their row

  18. Thomas Lumley says:

    That’s *Massey University*, not *Massy University*. Though, like all universities, it does possess mass.

    1. Amir says:

      Yes you are absolutely right about that

    2. Shazbot says:

      Do all universities possess mass, though?

      1. loupgarous says:

        The mass of some universities these days, is limited largely to a few computers, one of those fancy printers that can turn out nice diplomas, a stamp for embossing them with a nice sigil, and the rest mass of the electrons in their bank accounts.

        1. metaphysician says:

          I would argue this is a question for the philosophers. Is a “University” the sum total of all the matter and energy belonging to it? Or is it the abstract informational idea of the “University”, separate from the people and things operating under it?

          Bonus points: Presume that a “University” is a purely abstract concept. According to Information Theory, the information composing said concept could be converted to energy, and by Einstein, that energy could be converted to mass. Calculate the mass equivalent of the abstract idea of a “University”. *eg*

          1. loupgarous says:

            Extra points exercise: in the case of the less serious diploma mills which actually require completion of course material, but specialize in young Earth geology and other things that ain’t necessarily so, can you assign a veracity vector to the “knowledge” imparted?

            The veracity vector of the information imparted in such a University’s coursework might survive conversion into energy. So, if we just set up a faculty for such a university inside a starship of the Alcubierre warp-drive sort, can we get along without a macro-scale Casimir effect generator to make negative energy?

  19. SanityClaus says:

    “For something to be a gas at a given temperature”
    OF THE ATOMIC AND BI-ATOMIC PARTICLES. Any measurement of temperature does not indicate the rate of internal atomic/molecular force being converted to radiated energy. Atoms are comprised of concentric shells, the nodal points of which describe the structures of cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, osocihedron. The concentric shells of atoms rotate relative to each other to store energy as repulsive forces between electrons which make up the nodal points of the nested geometric solid shaped shells. The instability of nitrogen compounds is an expression of the lack of symmetry
    demonstrated by having only 5 valence electrons.
    Irving Langmuir wrote a paper in 1919 on the electronic structure of atoms. Irving Langmuir was a G.E. research chemist and personal friend of Berkley Chemist Lewis.

    1. loupgarous says:

      Proving once again that ALL CAPS is a pathognomonic sign of content we don’t have to take seriously.

      1. Annoned says:

        Quite right.

  20. Tony Zbaraschuk says:

    But the real question is: what are the chemical properties of the copernicum azides?

    1. loupgarous says:

      There’s a spicy spaetzel for you: an azide of a mercury-like ion with a 28-second half-life (Cn-285) which is an alpha-emitter, to boot.

      Let’s imagine our intrepid radiochemist (probably working in Dubna, because no OSHA clipboard Nazis are around doing personnel dosimetry) with an orchestra of particle colliders all making enough Cn-285 that you can actually make that azide… its own alpha-emissions supplying the energy to blow it up the second it’s made!

      Somehow I think even Thomas Klapotke might demur on this project.

  21. gippgig says:

    Note that 29 seconds is the half-life of the longest-lived KNOWN isotope of Cn (Cn-285). Longer-lasting isotopes undoubtedly exist (maximum lifetime may be around Cn-295).
    There is also a recent prediction by the same group that oganesson (element 118) is a semiconductor:
    Angewandte Chemie International Edition Vol. 58 p. 14260 doi: 10.1002/anie.201908327
    However, these should be regarded as just the latest in a long series of predictions of the chemical properties of superheavy elements rather than the final word. We won’t know what their properties actually are until actual experiments are done (which should be soon for Cn but not Og).

  22. Daniel Jones says:

    Do you have any idea how tempted I am to bring up the sheer weirdness of Bioshock Infinite in regards to gravity? The very, very implausible means by which the city of Columbia was supposed to be up there, well…


    Elizabeth: I just realized who those two are. They… well, at least she… invented the technology that allows the city to float.
    Booker: Giant balloons?
    Elizabeth: Quantum particles, suspended in space-time at a fixed height.
    Booker: So… Not giant balloons?

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