Ununhexium is a chemical element which is presumed to be metallic in nature, as it appears to share some traits with elements in the poor metals group of the periodic table. It is also classified as a transactinide element, meaning that it has an extremely high atomic number, placing it among the heaviest elements known to man. This element cannot be observed in nature; scientists who wish to study it must synthesize it in a laboratory with the assistance of a linear accelerator. This costly process makes it unlikely that commercial uses for ununhexium will be developed.
Like other transactinides, ununhexium is extremely unstable, existing for only a few seconds at a time before it decays into the form of a more stable element. It is also radioactive. These two traits make this element very challenging to study; very precise and sophisticated scientific equipment is needed when studying transactinide elements. Because many of the elements which are used to synthesize transactinide elements are also radioactive, access to facilities where such synthesis takes place tends to be tightly controlled.
This element is sometimes known as “eka-polonium.” It has no official name as of 2008; “ununhexium” is a systematic element name which was applied by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. These names are used to ensure that scientists refer to elements in a systematic way before they are formally named; the name of an element is typically suggested by the lab which discovers it, and it can take several decades to confirm discoveries and determine who gets the naming honor. Systematic element names reference the atomic numbers of the elements they describe; ununhexium is element 116, and ununhex means “one one six” in Latin. For now, ununhexium is known as “Uuh” on the periodic table of elements.
The first known appearance of ununhexium in the lab occurred in 2000, when Russian researchers managed to produce a small amount of it by bombarding calcium with curium. Originally, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory claimed that they had identified ununhexium, along with ununoctium, but this claim was later retracted. Researchers in Dubna, Russia have managed to repeat their original experiment and also to identify some new isotopes of ununhexium since their initial publication in 2000.
The so-called “super heavy elements” at the tail end of the periodic table are quite interesting to some researchers. The frustration involved in studying them only adds to the allure for some, as many scientists like nothing as much as a good challenge.