Periodic Table -> Actinium


Actinium Details

Actinium Symbol: Ac

Actinium Atomic Number: 89

Actinium Atomic Weight: (227)

What is Actinium?

Actinium (Ac, atomic number 89) is a radioactive element discovered in 1899. It was the first such element not found in nature to be isolated. Radon and radium and their distinctive properties were noted before those of actinium, but these elements were isolated in 1902. The actinide series (15 elements that are of similar type) is named after actinium.

Actinium was discovered by Andre-Louis Debierne, a French chemist. He extracted it from the residues left by Marie and Pierre Curie following their discovery of radium. In 1902, Friedrich Oskar Giesel discovered actinium independently. He described it as an element similar to lanthanum and called it emanium, but its earlier name was retained.

The name actinium is derived from aktis, which means “beam” in ancient Greek. Actinium glows in the dark with a pale blue light, which is typical of radioactive elements. The color is a result of its reaction with oxygen.

The chemical compounds of the element are AcF3, AcCl3, AcBr3, AcOF, AcOCl, AcOBr, Ac2S3, Ac2O3 and AcPO4.

Actinium is soft and silvery-white in color. It has a fast reaction with oxygen. Uranium ore contains some very small amounts of actinium – about 0.2 mg per ton. It is impossible to separate the actinium from the ore. Actinium is derived following neutron irradiation of 226Ra in a nuclear reactor. This metal is very rare and expensive and has a short half life. On top of that, it is radioactive and thus there is not much practical use for it. Scientists have recently started using it for radiation therapy targeting cancer cells in the body. It is also used as a source of neutrons.

Scientific research is one of the main applications of actinium. This element can be extremely dangerous, especially in the hands of someone with no experience in handling radioactive substances. Thus, consumers should avoid interacting with actinium.

Due to its immense radioactivity, actinium is being actively studied for use as an active element of thermoelectric generators in spacecraft and other industries. Apart from using it in the potential treatment of cancer, medical researchers also apply it to produce 213Bi in a reusable generator. 213Bi is an isotope of actinium. However, this isotope has a half-life of just 46 minutes, making it rather unsuitable for radiation therapy. A better option is the isotope 225Ac, which has a half-life of 10 days. The residual products of this isotope can also be used, because they emit alpha particles that can kill cancer cells in the body. This potential function was probed, but unfortunately, it emerged that injections of actinium complexes led them to accumulate in the bones and liver for decades. This means actinium does indeed kill cancer cells, but eventually new mutations may form.

Actinium 227 is very radioactive and as dangerous as plutonium when speaking of radiation-induced health issues. Ingesting even small quantities is a serious hazard to health. After extended exposure, even low doses have a cardinogenic effect. Persons exposed to radiation may suffer from leukemia, immune system damage, stillbirths, miscarriages, and fertility problems. Radiation has been identified as a cause of sterility.

Given that Actinium 227 is very radioactive, it can cause damage to the gene pool of all living creatures, not only humans. Moreover, radiation-related genetic damages have a cumulative effect over generations and lifetimes.

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