Physics and Chemistry of the Heaviest Elements
The search for an "island of stability" of superheavy elements has fueled interdisciplinary research in this topic for almost 50 years. Meanwhile the periodic table is home to 118 elements, almost 30 of which are man-made. The longest-lived isotopes of these artificially created elements known today have reached the shores of this long-sought island. For example, the isotope Db-270 (element 105) has a half-life of about 1 hour. Superheavy elements are of interest to nuclear and atomic physicists as well as to chemists due to their peculiar properties. Nuclear shell structure effects are responsible for their very existence stabilizing them against spontaneous disintegration. Their electronic structure is affected by strong relativistic effects that render their chemical properties to differ from those of their lighter homologs. However, the investigation of superheavy elements is challenging due to low production rates on the order of few atoms per week and rather short half-lives. This calls for tailored experiments of highest sensitivity that allow us to determine nuclear, atomic, and chemical properties from single atoms only. This lecture series will describe the current status of superheavy elements research covering their production and their experimental investigation including recent breakthroughs that have been achieved at the GSI Darmstadt.