Periodic Table -> Americium


Americium Details

Americium Symbol: Am

Americium Atomic Number: 95

Americium Atomic Weight: (243)

What is Americium?

Americium (symbol Am, atomic number 95) is an element of the actinide series, which is named after the element Actinium. It is found under the element europium in the periodical table and was named after the continent America for convenience. The synthetic element was first produced in 1944 by a team of researchers from the University of California. It is most commonly produced by directing alpha particles toward uranium or plutonium in nuclear reactors. Minute quantities of Am are found in used nuclear fuel.

Like the element that gave its name to the series, of which Am is part, this element is soft and silvery-white in color. Its best-known and most frequently found isotopes are 241Am and 243Am. They have the oxidation state of +3 in chemical compounds, especially in solutions. Other oxidation states they can be found in range from +2 to +7.

This element was the fourth transuranium one to be discovered after neptunium, plutonium, and curium. Transuranium elements are those elements with atomic numbers greater than 92, which is the number of uranium. They are all unstable and decay into other elements

In terms of usage, the element is often employed in commercial smoke detectors, neutron sources and industrial gauges. Its most common application is in smoke detectors. With smoke entering between the electrodes, the soot particles absorb the alpha radiation. The current is then interrupted, which starts the alarm.

The element is also used as target material in particle accelerators and nuclear reactors, for crystal research, and as a source for gamma radiography. One of its isotopes, 242mAm, has the potential to serve as a nuclear battery or fuel for space ships. The isotope, however, is very rare and expensive, which could be a problem. One isotope of practical interest is Americium-241, which gives off gamma and alpha rays when decaying. Alpha rays are not good at traveling far in air. However, gamma rays are much like X-rays in that they are penetrating. These rays can be put to use in various portable machines. For example, they can help determine the places where oil wells can be dug. In view of compounds, no compounds of americium have a commercial use.

This element was successfully isolated from its oxides in the following way. To begin with, plutonium-239 nitrate was placed on platinum foil, evaporated, and what was left was transformed into plutonium dioxide. Following cyclotron irradiation, the film was mixed with nitric acid and then precipitated as the hydroxide. The residue was dissolved in perchloric acid. Ion exchange was done to derive a special isotope of curium, after which curium and americium were separated. The researchers from the University of California came to refer to this process as delirium, because it was really difficult and prolonged. In fact, it may have indeed induced madness in some members of the team, but these aspects have not been documented.

The isotopes of americium include 241Am, 242Am, 239Am and 238Am. The first was derived directly from plutonium after absorption of a neutron. The second was produced by bombarding the first with neutrons.

An interesting fact about Am is that certain quantities of it were present in the fallout from the Ivy Mike nuclear test. Concentrations of the element have been found on the site of Chernobyl and other nuclear incidents.

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