Hilary Boden shares the latest science news

Plutonium-238 sphere under its own light. Plutonium is one of the elements used in creating element 114.

Introducing Flerovium and Livermorium

Names for the two newest members of the periodic table have been proposed; a full ten years after the elements were discovered. Elements 114 and 116 will become known as Flerovium and Livermorium respectively if the names are officially endorsed by the table’s governing body in five months time. They were among a small number put forward for inclusion in the periodic table in recent years, and were accredited by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in June this year after a three year review. Elements 114 and 116 are now officially accepted as the heaviest elements, but other supposed heavy elements: 113, 115, and 118, are still undergoing the review process.

Scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna and Lawrence Livermore chemists discovered the two elements 116 and 114, by smashing calcium ions (with 20 protons each) into a curium target (96 protons). This produced element 116 which then almost immediately decayed into element 114. Element 114 could also be separately created by impacting the calcium ions with an alternative plutonium target (94 protons).

Flerovium, with atomic symbol Fl, was named in order to honour the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, where element 114 and other superheavy elements have been synthesised. In 1991, the Laboratory was named after the renowned physicist Goergiy N. Flerov, a pioneer in heavy-ion physics, having discovered the spontaneous fission of uranium. He was also the founder of the Joint Institute for Nuclear research. Livermorium, with the atomic symbol Lv, similarly honours the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. A group of researchers from this laboratory, along with those at the Florev Laboratory, carried out work which resulted in the synthesis of superheavy elements including element 116.

“Proposing these names for the elements honours not only the individual contributions of scientists from these laboratories to the fields of nuclear science, heavy element research, and superheavy element research, but also the phenomenal cooperation and collaboration that has occurred between scientists at these two locations,” said Bill Goldstein, associate director of LLNL’s Physical and Life Sciences Directorate. With the creation of elements 114 and 116, scientists are hopeful that the team is on its way to ‘the island of stability’- an area of the periodic table where heavy elements would be stable enough for applications to be found for them.

Young Men’s Brains Are Altered by Violent Video Games

Researchers have studied the effects of media violence on our brains for many years, and up until now, there has been little substantial scientific evidence which suggests that games have a prolonged neurological effect. But for the first time, a direct relationship between playing violent video games and subsequent changes in specific brain regions has been confirmed. A study presented by the Indiana University School of Medicine found that sustained changes in the region of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control were produced in young adult men after only one week of playing violent video games.

The study involved 28 healthy adult males, aged between 18 and 29, with low past exposure to video games. All of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis at the beginning of the study before being randomly separated into two groups of fourteen. The first group was instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours for one week, and to refrain entirely from playing during the following week. Importantly, the young men were supplied with laptops and played at home within their ‘natural’ environment, in contrast to previous research undertaken in laboratory settings. The second group, used as a control group, did not engage in game-play at all during the two weeks. Follow up fMRI analysis was carried out on each of the participants at one week and at the conclusion of the two week study. Whilst undergoing fMRI, the participants completed an emotional interference task, which involved pressing buttons according to the colour of visually presented words; these words were a mixture of violent and nonviolent action words.

Subsequent results showed that after only one week of violent game play, participants exhibited less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe and the anterior cingulate cortex compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week, in which the test subjects refrained from playing video games, the changes to the executive regions of the brain returned closer to the control group.  Dr Yang Wang, assistant research professor in the IU Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences said of the findings: “[they] indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning. These effects may translate into behavioral changes over longer periods of game play.”

Hilary Boden

Image credit- United States Department of Energy