Abstract

Optical spectroscopy of a primordial isotope has traditionally formed the basis for understanding the atomic structure of an element. Such studies have been conducted for most elements1 and theoretical modelling can be performed to high precision2,3, taking into account relativistic effects that scale approximately as the square of the atomic number. However, for the transfermium elements (those with atomic numbers greater than 100), the atomic structure is experimentally unknown. These radioactive elements are produced in nuclear fusion reactions at rates of only a few atoms per second at most and must be studied immediately following their production4, which has so far precluded their optical spectroscopy. Here we report laser resonance ionization spectroscopy of nobelium (No; atomic number 102) in single-atom-at-a-time quantities, in which we identify the ground-state transition 1S0 1P1. By combining this result with data from an observed Rydberg series, we obtain an upper limit for the ionization potential of nobelium. These accurate results from direct laser excitations of outer-shell electrons cannot be achieved using state-of-the-art relativistic many-body calculations5,6,7,8 that include quantum electrodynamic effects, owing to large uncertainties in the modelled transition energies of the complex systems under consideration. Our work opens the door to high-precision measurements of various atomic and nuclear properties of elements heavier than nobelium, and motivates future theoretical work.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the staff of the GSI ion source and accelerator for the preparation of a stable 48Ca beam and the staff of the target laboratory for providing high-quality targets. We acknowledge the technical support of J. Maurer, H. G. Burkhard, D. Racano, L. Braisz, D. Reemts, C. Droese, B. Schausten and I. Kostyuk. We thank P. Thirolf for his suggestions and comments. This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under contracts 06MZ169I, 06LM236I, FAIR NuSTAR 05P09RDFN4, 05P12RDFN8 and 05P15RDFN1; by the GSI; and by the Helmholtz-Institut Mainz.

Author information

Author notes

    • Dieter Ackermann
    • , Julia Even
    •  & Enrique Minaya Ramirez

    Present addresses: Grand Accélérateur National d’Ions Lourds, Bd Henri Becquerel, BP 55027 - 14076 Caen Cedex 05, France (D.A.); KVI—Center for Advanced Radiation Technology, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Zernikelaan 25, 9747 AA Groningen, The Netherlands (J.E.); Institut de Physique Nucléaire Orsay, 15 rue Georges Clémenceau, 91406 Orsay, France (E.M.R).

Affiliations

  1. Helmholtz-Institut Mainz, Staudingerweg 18, D-55128 Mainz, Germany

    • Mustapha Laatiaoui
    • , Michael Block
    • , Christoph Emanuel Düllmann
    • , Julia Even
    • , Francesca Giacoppo
    • , Stefan Götz
    • , Fritz Peter Heßberger
    • , Jadambaa Khuyagbaatar
    • , Andrew Kishor Mistry
    • , Sebastian Raeder
    • , Enrique Minaya Ramirez
    •  & Alexander Yakushev
  2. GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH, Planckstrasse 1, D-64291 Darmstadt, Germany

    • Mustapha Laatiaoui
    • , Michael Block
    • , Dieter Ackermann
    • , Christoph Emanuel Düllmann
    • , Francesca Giacoppo
    • , Stefan Götz
    • , Fritz Peter Heßberger
    • , Oliver Kaleja
    • , Jadambaa Khuyagbaatar
    • , Andrew Kishor Mistry
    • , Sebastian Raeder
    •  & Alexander Yakushev
  3. Institut für Kernphysik, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Johann-Joachim-Becher Weg 45, D-55128 Mainz, Germany

    • Werner Lauth
    •  & Hartmut Backe
  4. Institut für Kernchemie, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Fritz-Strassmann Weg 2, D-55128 Mainz, Germany

    • Michael Block
    • , Christoph Emanuel Düllmann
    •  & Stefan Götz
  5. Department of Physics, University of Liverpool, Oxford Street, Liverpool L69 7ZE, UK

    • Bradley Cheal
    •  & Calvin Wraith
  6. Institut für Angewandte Physik, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Schlossgartenstrasse 7, D-64289 Darmstadt, Germany

    • Premaditya Chhetri
    • , Felix Lautenschläger
    •  & Thomas Walther
  7. KU Leuven, Instituut voor Kern- en Stralingsfysica, Celestijnenlaan 200D, B-3001 Leuven, Belgium

    • Piet van Duppen
    • , Rafael Ferrer
    • , Mark Huyse
    •  & Sebastian Raeder
  8. Institut für Kernphysik, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Schlossgartenstrasse 9, D-64289 Darmstadt, Germany

    • Oliver Kaleja
  9. TRIUMF, 4004 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 2A3, Canada

    • Peter Kunz

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Contributions

W.L., H.B., M.B., T.W., P.v.D., C.E.D., M.H. and A.Y. provided experimental equipment. M.L., F.L., P.C., S.R., W.L., P.K., M.B., F.P.H., D.A., C.W., A.K.M., B.C., R.F., F.G., O.K., J.K., J.E., S.G. and E.M.R. performed the experiments. F.L., P.C., H.B., S.R. and M.L. analysed the data. M.L. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mustapha Laatiaoui.

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks V. Fedosseev and L. Visscher for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature19345

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