Scientists successfully created and studied Einsteinium, one of the most elusive and heaviest elements on the periodic table, for the first time in decades.
This achievement brings chemists closer to discovering the so-called “island of stability,” where it is believed some of the heaviest and shortest-lived elements can persist.
The U.S. Department of Energy first discovered einsteinium in 1952 during the testing of the first hydrogen bomb. This element does not occur naturally on Earth and can only be produced in microscopic quantities using specialized nuclear reactors. It is also difficult to separate from other elements, is highly radioactive and decays quickly, making it extremely difficult to study.
Researchers at Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California recently created a 233-nanogram sample of pure Einsteinium and experimented with the element for the first time since the 1970s. In doing so, they were able to uncover some of the element’s fundamental chemical properties for the first time.
Like other elements in the actinide series – a group of 15 metallic elements at the bottom of the periodic table – Einsteinium is created by bombarding the target element, in this case curium, with neutrons and protons to create heavier elements.
The team used a specialized nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, one of the few places in the world where einsteinium can be produced. Extracting a pure sample of Einsteinium from California is difficult because of the similarities between the two elements, which meant that the researchers obtained only a tiny sample of Einsteinium-254, one of the most stable isotopes or versions of the elusive element.