Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy conducted the first detailed study of the element called “Einsteinium”. It is so rare and fragile that scientists for 70 years have not been able to collect the volume of samples needed for experiments.
In the early 1950s, nuclear physicist Albert Giorso discovered faint traces of two unknown radioactive elements in airborne dust collected by planes flying after the first full-scale test of a thermonuclear device. One of these was later named Einsteinium, after the famous scientist.
The element has an atomic mass of 252 and contains 99 protons. As with all transuranic elements (elements heavier than uranium), it takes serious physics to make einsteinium.
The first attempts in the 1960s allowed scientists to obtain only 10 nanograms. Subsequent experiments were no more successful.
But the authors of the new study were able to obtain about 200 nanograms of the Einsteinium isotope E-254 in a complex with a carbon-based molecule called hydroxypyridinone. The element decays quickly, so stopping the experiment because of a pandemic threatened to destroy all the results. But in the end, the scientists were still successful.
“It’s a remarkable achievement that we were able to work with this small amount of material and do inorganic chemistry,” said study author Rebecca Abergel.
The element was subjected to X-ray tests and photophysical measurements. Scientists were first able to measure the length of its chemical bond (this property determines the interaction of matter with other atoms and molecules).
Scientists noted that there are also larger elements than Einsteinium. But modern technology cannot create them in sufficient quantities for analysis.
“But the more we learn about heavy atoms like Einsteinium, the more potential we have to find steps toward creating giants,” they noted.