Elementary blunder. The "discovery" of element 118 was a sham.

Elements 116 and 118 Were a Sham

The sham "discovery" of elements 116 and 118 seems to be a case of scientific misconduct, according to officials at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), who have dismissed a scientist for fabricating data. Although the lab won't name the physicist at the center of the controversy, it appears to be Victor Ninov. He was in charge of the data analysis of the experiment and was subsequently fired from the laboratory.

In 1999, physicists at LBL announced that they had discovered elements 118 and 116 by smashing lead nuclei and krypton nuclei together (ScienceNOW, 7 June 1999). The news gave LBL a major edge in the high-stakes competition to push the edge of the periodic table. However, when other scientists tried to replicate the experiment, they failed. The team from LBL then reanalyzed its original data. Shockingly, the crucial evidence for the "discovery," cascades of alpha particles that accompany the deterioration of a superheavy element, were nowhere to be seen (ScienceNOW, 30 July 2001). The lab concluded that the supporting data were fabricated and dismissed a staff scientist in May for his role in the misconduct.

A spokesperson at LBL refused to describe details of the misconduct or even to mention Ninov's name, but he confirmed that Ninov indeed led the initial analysis effort in the element 116 and 118 experiments. He also confirmed that Ninov was dismissed for scientific misconduct.

On 15 July, all the authors of the original discovery paper but one--Victor Ninov--published a retraction of their claim in Physical Review Letters. (Although Ninov's name appears on the retraction, he apparently refused to sign off on it.) Both elements 116 and 118 have vanished along with the spurious data.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Posted in Physics