Important scientific question of the day

There are two ways to go about testing this, neither of which are practical. One requires the energy of dozens of Large Hadron Colliders. The other could yield a cauldron-full of flaming plutonium. Both, however, would probably create carbon monoxide and a pile of rust and salts rather than a cool Frankenstein element.

If you toss single atoms of each element into a box, they won’t form a super-molecule containing one of everything, explains Mark Tuckerman, a theoretical chemist at New York University. Atoms consist of a nucleus of neutrons and protons with a set number of electrons zooming around them. Molecules form when atoms’ electron orbitals overlap and effectively hold the atoms together. What you get when you mix all your atoms, Tuckerman says, will be influenced by what’s close to what.

Oxygen, for example, is very reactive, and if it is closest to hydrogen, it will make hydroxide. If it is nearest to carbon, it will make carbon monoxide. “That random reactive nature applies to pretty much all elements,” Tuckerman says. “You could run this experiment 100 times and get 100 different combinations.” Certain elements, such as the noble gases, wouldn’t react with anything, so you’d be left with those and a few commonly found two- and three-atom molecules.