Thursday, February 22, 2007
Russian and American scientists have created a so far nameless element with the atomic number 118. It lasted for a millisecond, but there it was, the first man-made inert gas. Stuart, as I predict it will be named, seems to be causing some confusion in the mind of Seth Borenstein of Associated Press. At one point he says the element has been created, at another he says it is a discovery. Did Stuart in exist before we made him, perhaps virtually, as a possibility concealed within the laws of physics? And did we, therefore, 'discover' this possibility? Or is it as meaningless to say Stuart exists in this field as to say a BMW 5 series exists in the earth's crust, waiting to be discovered? He was, therefore, created. But there is something odd about the idea of 'creating' elements. something irrational. Creation implies changing one state into another, but what can be prior to an element? Also creating elements feels like impiety, but, of course, it's just the language. 'Element' has become a strange misnomer now that we can fiddle with quarks.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:27 am