Periodic Table -> Curium


Curium Details

Curium Symbol: Cm

Curium Atomic Number: 96

Curium Atomic Weight: (247)

What is Curium?

Curium was named after Marie and Pierre Curie. It is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Cm and atomic number 96. It is radioactive and part of the actinide series. This element was first identified in the summer of 1944 by a research group at the University of California. Information about this was not disseminated until a year had passed. Curium is mainly created by using neutrons to bombard uranium in nuclear reactors. The metal is hard and silvery in color. Curium oxidizes easily. It has multiple oxides and forms highly fluorescent complexes with different organic compounds. This metal is very dangerous. It can accumulate in the liver, lungs, and bones and cause cancer. All the isotopes of this element are radioactive. They generate x-particles, whereby heat is released, which in turn a source of electricity used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators. However, the isotopes of this substance are rare, expensive, and highly radioactive. It is also used to make pacemakers, more specifically in the power source. Curium has been widely used in space technology – it is a source of alpha particles in the X-ray spectrometers, which were used on Mars 96, Mars, Athena, Spirit, Sojourner, and Opportunity rovers with the purpose to determine the composition of the rocks on the Moon and Mars. The major application of curium, however, is in basic scientific research. The main isotopes of curium include curium bromide, curium trioxide, curium iodide, and curium chloride, among others. Similar to curium, they do not have commercial applications at present and are mostly used in scientific research.

Curium is one of the most radioactive elements that can be isolated. Its main isotopes are 242Cm and 244Cm. They have short half-lives and produce a high amount of thermal energy. As a result, curium can serve well in radioisotope thermoelectric generators for spaceships and space shuttles. Currently, the isotope 244Cm seems to be a better bet because the other isotope is extremely rare and one gram costs around two thousand dollars. Another isotope, curium-243, also exists, but it emits harmful gamma and beta rays.

The isotope 242Cm can also be used to produce 238Pu, which is more suitable for use as a thermoelectric generator. Bombarding the isotope 248Cm with oxygen (18O) or magnesium (26Mg) can generate some isotopes of seaborgium (265Sg) and hassium (269Hs and 270Hs).

Curium was also used when the element californium was discovered. This occurred when a miniscule target of curium-242 joined with 35 MeV alpha particles through a 60-inch cyclotron. The experiment was also conducted at Berkeley. Several thousand atoms of californium were produced in this experiment.

Finally, a few words about safety – it is important to handle curium and its compounds with utmost caution. Due to its radioactivity, the element and its compounds should be handled under special arrangements in laboratory settings. Some decay products of curium emit gamma and beta radiation, thus requiring elaborate protection. If it enters the body, curium is released within a couple of days, and only 0.05 percent of it is absorbed in the blood stream. Curium’s biological half-life is fifty years in the bones and twenty years in the liver. The amount absorbed goes to the liver and bones and accumulates in the bone marrow. It prevents blood cell formation because curium radiation destroys the bone marrow.

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