A new paper co-authored by CAS fellow Peter Schwerdtfeger is shedding light on the superheavy element oganesson (Og), the heaviest element discovered to date.

Oganesson was first synthesised in 2002. Like other superheavy elements, oganesson is highly unstable, meaning it quickly decays into other elements, which makes it difficult to study. Theoretical chemists such as Schwerdtfeger therefore use advanced calculations to infer superheavy elements’ chemical properties.

Schwerdtfeger, working with three others chemists at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, and Michigan State University in the U.S., found that the atomic shell structure of oganesson differs from that of other noble gases. Oganesson, compared to gases such as radon and xenon, has a ‘barely recognisable’ atomic shell structure in which the shells are ‘smeared out like in a homogeneous electron gas,’ the authors write.

The paper, titled ‘Electron and Nucleon Localization Functions of Oganesson: Approaching the Thomas-Fermi Limit,’ was published on Wednesday in the prestigious scholarly journal Physical Review Letters, the flagship journal of the American Physical Society.

Schwerdtfeger, a professor at Massey, is this year participating in the project Molecules in Extreme Environments.

Angela K. Wilson, the Hannah Professor of Computational Chemistry at Michigan State, wrote in a viewpoint article published alongside the paper that the findings may enable further studies of superheavy elements.

‘These important insights about the electronic and nucleaonic shell structure of oganesson open the door to further theoretical investigation into its unusual properties,’ Wilson wrote.