March 17 – The Announcement of Californium

Posted on March 17, 2016

I am proud to be a Californian.

A Californian who loves the movie "Clueless"!
The word californication refers to the spread of Western society's pop culture all over the world. Usually meant in a negative way, it blames California for pop culture, because California has been (and still is to some extent) the center of the film industry – and movies have been (and still are to some extent) an important way in which culture spreads.

But today is not about californication – it's about californium.

Which is a chemical element.

This time, California gets the credit rather than the blame – because scientists in California made the element.

Like other elements with high atomic numbers, californium can be synthesized by bombarding other elements with alpha particles. In this case, it was made at the University of California Radiation Laboratory, in Berkeley, by bombarding curium with alpha particles.

On this date in 1950, researchers announced the new element to the world.

Here are some of the characteristics of the various forms of californium:

  • One crystalline forms exists above 900 degrees C (or 1,650 degrees F – so, VERY hot!), and another crystalline form exists below that temperature.
  • A third form exists at high pressure.
  • It slowly tarnishes at room temperature.
  • We know of twenty different isotopes of californium. Each isotope has a different number of neutrons, and therefore a different weight.
  • The different isotopes have different lengths of half-life. Half-life is the measure of time it takes for about half of the atoms in a sample to decay into other elements. For example, californium-251 has a half-life of 898 years, and californium-253 has a half-life of just 2 and a half years.
  • Because certain isotopes of californium emit neutrons when they decay, this chemical element is used to start up some nuclear reactors, to study materials with neutron spectroscopy, and in nuclear synthesis (making new elements).
  • Of course, like all other radioactive elements, californium must be handled carefully; it can be harmful.

Also on this date:

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