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About the element
Einsteinium is a metallic, radioactive, and soft silver metal with an atomic number 99 and the symbol Es. It was named after Albert Einstein and it belongs to the actinide series of metallic elements found near the bottom of the periodic table.
It was discovered in December 1952 by workers at Berkeley and Los Alamos who were examining debris from a nuclear weapon test in the Pacific Ocean. They were able to identify the first 253Es isotope, which has a half-life of 20 days.
Chemically, it is an actinide with multiple oxidation states that can form different colored compounds. It is most stable in the +3 oxidation state, which is pale pink in solution.
How it is made
Like all of the actinide elements, einsteinium is made by bombarding a target element with neutrons and protons to produce heavier atoms. In this case, scientists used a specialized nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the few places in the world where they can make it.
The team’s findings are shedding new light on the properties of heaviest elements, and could help chemists synthesize even heavier ones in the future. They could also help scientists predict what happens towards the edge of the periodic table, where chemistry can be altered in ways that are not yet understood.
Einsteinium is the heaviest element to have undergone such analyses, and its bizarre properties may be an indication that things are changing towards the end of the table. Rebecca Abergel’s research lays the groundwork for exploring what’s ahead in the periodic table and might even help us discover new elements.