In the period between 1940 and 1961, eleven transuranium elements were discovered by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). The term transuranium element refers to elements beyond uranium (atomic numbers greater than 92) in the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to each other. All transuranium elements are unstable or radioactive. Radioactive elements throw off energy or particles as they decay into more stable atoms. One of these elements was berkelium.
Discovery and naming
In 1949, element number 97 was produced in a particle accelerator on the UCB campus. A particle accelerator is sometimes called an atom smasher. It is used to speed up very small particles and atoms, which then collide with atoms of such elements as gold, copper, or tin. These atoms are called targets. When the particles strike target atoms precisely, the atom is converted into a new element.
The UCB researchers fired alpha particles— helium atoms without their electrons—at ameririum atoms in their particle accelerator. The result was a new element—number 97.
The new element was given the name berkelium by the UCB research team, in honor of the city of Berkeley, where the research was done.
Physical and chemical properties
Berkelium exists in such small amounts that very little is known about its properties.
Occurrence in nature
Berkelium does not occur in nature. It is made artificially.
All isotopes of berkelium are radioactive. The most stable is berkelium-247. It has a half life of 1,380 years. Isotopes are two or more forms of an element. Isotopes differ from each other according to their mass number. The number written to the right of the element's name is the mass number. The mass number represents the number of protons plus neutrons in the nucleus of an atom of the eLement. The number of protons determines the element, but the number of neutrons in the atom of any one element can vary. Each variation is an isotope. A radioactive isotope is one that breaks apart and gives off some form of radiation.
Berkelium-247 has a half life of 1,380 years. The half life of a radioactive element is the time it takes for half of a sample of the element to break down. After 1,380 years, only half of a 10-gram sample (5 grams) of berkelium-247 would be left. The other half would have changed into a different element. After another 1,380 years, half of the remaining berkelium-247 would have changed, leaving 2.5 grams behind.
Berkelium does not occur in nature. Therefore, it is not extracted.
Berkelium has no commercial uses.
No compounds of any practical importance have been prepared.
The health effects of berkelium have not been studied in detail Since it is radioactive, scientists assume that it is harmful to human health.