curium

curium (kyŏrˈēəm) [key], artificially produced radioactive chemical element; symbol Cm; at. no. 96; mass no. of most stable isotope 247; m.p. about 1,340°C; b.p. 3,110°C; sp. gr. 13.5 (calculated); valence +3, +4. A hard, brittle, silvery metal that tarnishes in air, curium is chemically reactive and resembles gadolinium in its chemical properties, although it has a more complex crystalline structure. Oxides, fluorides, a chloride, a bromide, and an iodide of curium have been prepared. Curium is a member of the actinide series in Group 3 of the periodic table. Sixteen isotopes of curium are known. Curium-242, prepared by neutron bombardment of americium-241, has a half-life of 163 days; curium-247, the most stable isotope, has a half-life of 15.6 million years. Some curium isotopes are available in multigram quantities.

Curium is intensely radioactive; it is about 3,000 times as radioactive as radium. It is also very toxic when absorbed into the body because it accumulates in the bones and disrupts the formation of red blood cells. Curium-242 and curium-244 are used in the space program as a heat source (from the heat they generate as they undergo radioactive decay) for compact thermionic and thermoelectric power generation.

Curium has not been found to occur naturally; it was the third transuranium element to be synthesized. Curium was first produced by the bombardment of plutonium-239 with alpha particles in a cyclotron at the Univ. of California at Berkeley. Identified in 1944 by Glenn T. Seaborg, Ralph A. James, and Albert Ghiorso, it was named for Pierre and Marie Curie, the noted pioneers in the study of radioactivity. The metal was first isolated in visible amounts as the hydroxide by L. B. Werner and I. Perlman in 1947.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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