Chemistry - Glen Seaborg and the transuranium elements
Glen Seaborg and the transuranium elements
Prior to the 1939 discovery of nuclear fission by Meitner, Hahn and
Strassman much research had focussed on looking for i.e. the transuranium
elements. The fission of uranium into smaller atoms by bombardment with
neutrons initially diverted attention from the quest for transuranium
elements. Then in 1940, an unexpected particle appeared amongst the
products of neutron bombardment of uranium at the University of California,
Berkeley. This was eventually isolated, identified as and called
Some 20 transuranium elements (numbers 93 to 112) have now been produced
by what is described as artificial transmutation, where known elements are
bombarded with neutrons, hydrogen nuclei, helium nuclei and even larger
nuclei. All the transuranium elements are radioactive.
The driving force behind the discovery of 13 of the transuranium elements,
between 1940 and 1961 was Glenn Seaborg. Seaborg initially went hunting for
element 94 using a particle accelerator called a to bombard uranium with
hydrogen nuclei. Eventually 94Pu was discovered. Because Pu-239 can
undergo fission, it is used in nuclear weapons. Of particular concern is
the extreme toxicity of weapons-grade plutonium and its half-life of
approximately 24 000 years.
Seaborg continued his work on the transuranium elements by bombarding
plutonium. In 1944 he produced the next two elements: and Bombarding these
elements produced element in 1949 and element in 1950.
Elements and were detected in the debris of the first hydrogen bomb
explosion. These and and are also associated with Seaborg's group.
The discovery of elements 102 - nobelium, 104 - rutherfordium, 105 -
dubnium, 107 - bohrium, 108 - hassnium, 109 - meitnerium and elements 110,
111 and 112 has involved chemists from Europe, Russia and the United
Many of these elements decay rapidly with isotopes This has made it
difficult to analyse their chemical behaviour.
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