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Americium,  95Am
Americium microscope.jpg
Pronunciation /ˌæmɪˈrɪsiəm/ (AM-ə-RISS-ee-əm)
Appearancesilvery white
Mass number 243(most stable isotope)
Americium in the periodic table
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson


Atomic number (Z)95
Group group n/a
Period period 7
Block f-block
Element category   Actinide
Electron configuration [ Rn ] 5f7 7s2
Electrons per shell
2, 8, 18, 32, 25, 8, 2
Physical properties
Phase at  STP solid
Melting point 1449  K (1176 °C,2149 °F)
Boiling point 2880 K(2607 °C,4725 °F)(calculated)
Density (near r.t.)12 g/cm3
Heat of fusion 14.39  kJ/mol
Molar heat capacity 62.7 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure
P (Pa)1101001 k10 k100 k
at T (K)12391356
Atomic properties
Oxidation states +2, +3, +4, +5, +6, +7 (an  amphoteric oxide)
Electronegativity Pauling scale: 1.3
Ionization energies
  • 1st: 578 kJ/mol
Atomic radius empirical:173  pm
Covalent radius 180±6 pm
Color lines in a spectral range Americium spectrum visible.png
Color lines in a spectral range
Spectral lines of americium
Other properties
Natural occurrence synthetic
Crystal structure double hexagonal close-packed (dhcp)
Thermal conductivity 10 W/(m·K)
Electrical resistivity 0.69 µΩ·m [1]
Magnetic ordering paramagnetic
Magnetic susceptibility +1000.0·10−6 cm3/mol [2]
CAS Number 7440-35-9
Namingafter the Americas
Discovery Glenn T. Seaborg, Ralph A. James, Leon O. Morgan, Albert Ghiorso (1944)
Main isotopes of americium
Iso­tope Abun­dance Half-life (t1/2) Decay mode Pro­duct
241Am syn 432.2 y SF
α 237Np
242m1 Amsyn141 y IT 242Am
α 238Np
243Amsyn7370 ySF
α 239Np
| references

Americium is a synthetic radioactive chemical element with the symbol Am and atomic number 95. It is a transuranic member of the actinide series, in the periodic table located under the lanthanide element europium, and thus by analogy was named after the Americas. [3]

Radioactive decay Process by which an unstable atom emits radiation

Radioactive decay is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting radiation, such as an alpha particle, beta particle with neutrino or only a neutrino in the case of electron capture, or a gamma ray or electron in the case of internal conversion. A material containing unstable nuclei is considered radioactive. Certain highly excited short-lived nuclear states can decay through neutron emission, or more rarely, proton emission.

Chemical element a species of atoms having the same number of protons in the atomic nucleus

A chemical element is a species of atom having the same number of protons in their atomic nuclei. For example, the atomic number of oxygen is 8, so the element oxygen consists of all atoms which have 8 protons.

Symbol (chemistry) an arbitrary or conventional sign used in chemical science to represent a chemical element

In chemistry, a symbol is an abbreviation for a chemical element. Symbols for chemical elements normally consist of one or two letters from the Latin alphabet and are written with the first letter capitalised.


Americium was first produced in 1944 by the group of Glenn T. Seaborg from Berkeley, California, at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, a part of the Manhattan Project. Although it is the third element in the transuranic series, it was discovered fourth, after the heavier curium. The discovery was kept secret and only released to the public in November 1945. Most americium is produced by uranium or plutonium being bombarded with neutrons in nuclear reactors – one tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains about 100 grams of americium. It is widely used in commercial ionization chamber smoke detectors, as well as in neutron sources and industrial gauges. Several unusual applications, such as nuclear batteries or fuel for space ships with nuclear propulsion, have been proposed for the isotope 242mAm, but they are as yet hindered by the scarcity and high price of this nuclear isomer.

Glenn T. Seaborg American scientist

Glenn Theodore Seaborg was an American chemist whose involvement in the synthesis, discovery and investigation of ten transuranium elements earned him a share of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His work in this area also led to his development of the actinide concept and the arrangement of the actinide series in the periodic table of the elements.

Berkeley, California City in California, United States

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

Metallurgical Laboratory former laboratory at the University of Chicago, part of the Manhattan Project

The Metallurgical Laboratory was a scientific laboratory at the University of Chicago that was established in February 1942 to study and use the newly discovered chemical element plutonium. It researched plutonium's chemistry and metallurgy, designed the world's first nuclear reactors to produce it, and developed chemical processes to separate it from other elements. In August 1942 the lab's chemical section was the first to chemically separate a weighable sample of plutonium, and on 2 December 1942, the Met Lab produced the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, in the reactor Chicago Pile-1, which was constructed under the stands of the university's old football stadium, Stagg Field.

Americium is a relatively soft radioactive metal with silvery appearance. Its common isotopes are 241Am and 243Am. In chemical compounds, americium usually assumes the oxidation state +3, especially in solutions. Several other oxidation states are known, ranging from +2 to +7, and can be identified by their characteristic optical absorption spectra. The crystal lattice of solid americium and its compounds contain small intrinsic radiogenic defects, due to metamictization induced by self-irradiation with alpha particles, which accumulates with time; this can cause a drift of some material properties over time, more noticeable in older samples.

Americium (95Am) is an artificial element, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all artificial elements, it has no known stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 241Am in 1944. The artificial element decays by ejecting alpha particles. Americium has an atomic number of 95.

The oxidation state, sometimes referred to as oxidation number, describes the degree of oxidation of an atom in a chemical compound. Conceptually, the oxidation state, which may be positive, negative or zero, is the hypothetical charge that an atom would have if all bonds to atoms of different elements were 100% ionic, with no covalent component. This is never exactly true for real bonds.


The 60-inch cyclotron at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, in August 1939. Berkeley 60-inch cyclotron.gif
The 60-inch cyclotron at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, in August 1939.
The triangle in the glass tube contains the first sample of americium (as the hydroxide (Am(OH)3)), produced in 1944. Americium.jpg
The triangle in the glass tube contains the first sample of americium (as the hydroxide (Am(OH)3)), produced in 1944.

Although americium was likely produced in previous nuclear experiments, it was first intentionally synthesized, isolated and identified in late autumn 1944, at the University of California, Berkeley, by Glenn T. Seaborg, Leon O. Morgan, Ralph A. James, and Albert Ghiorso. They used a 60-inch cyclotron at the University of California, Berkeley. [5] The element was chemically identified at the Metallurgical Laboratory (now Argonne National Laboratory) of the University of Chicago. Following the lighter neptunium, plutonium, and heavier curium, americium was the fourth transuranium element to be discovered. At the time, the periodic table had been restructured by Seaborg to its present layout, containing the actinide row below the lanthanide one. This led to americium being located right below its twin lanthanide element europium; it was thus by analogy named after the Americas: "The name americium (after the Americas) and the symbol Am are suggested for the element on the basis of its position as the sixth member of the actinide rare-earth series, analogous to europium, Eu, of the lanthanide series." [6] [7] [8]

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship campus of the ten campuses of the University of California. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Ralph Arthur James was a chemist at the University of Chicago who co-discovered the elements curium (1944) and americium (1944–1945). Later he worked at UCLA and at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory in California.

Albert Ghiorso nuclear scientist

Albert Ghiorso was an American nuclear scientist and co-discoverer of a record 12 chemical elements on the periodic table. His research career spanned six decades, from the early 1940s to the late 1990s.

The new element was isolated from its oxides in a complex, multi-step process. First plutonium-239 nitrate (239PuNO3) solution was coated on a platinum foil of about 0.5 cm2 area, the solution was evaporated and the residue was converted into plutonium dioxide (PuO2) by calcining. After cyclotron irradiation, the coating was dissolved with nitric acid, and then precipitated as the hydroxide using concentrated aqueous ammonia solution. The residue was dissolved in perchloric acid. Further separation was carried out by ion exchange, yielding a certain isotope of curium. The separation of curium and americium was so painstaking that those elements were initially called by the Berkeley group as pandemonium (from Greek for all demons or hell) and delirium (from Latin for madness). [9] [10] [11] [12]

Oxide chemical compound with at least one oxygen atom

An oxide is a chemical compound that contains at least one oxygen atom and one other element in its chemical formula. "Oxide" itself is the dianion of oxygen, an O2– atom. Metal oxides thus typically contain an anion of oxygen in the oxidation state of −2. Most of the Earth's crust consists of solid oxides, the result of elements being oxidized by the oxygen in air or in water. Hydrocarbon combustion affords the two principal carbon oxides: carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Even materials considered pure elements often develop an oxide coating. For example, aluminium foil develops a thin skin of Al2O3 (called a passivation layer) that protects the foil from further corrosion. Individual elements can often form multiple oxides, each containing different amounts of the element and oxygen. In some cases these are distinguished by specifying the number of atoms as in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and in other cases by specifying the element's oxidation number, as in iron(II) oxide and iron(III) oxide. Certain elements can form many different oxides, such as those of nitrogen. other examples are silicon, iron, titanium, and aluminium oxides.

Plutonium Chemical element with atomic number 94

Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element with the symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, and forms a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation states. It reacts with carbon, halogens, nitrogen, silicon, and hydrogen. When exposed to moist air, it forms oxides and hydrides that can expand the sample up to 70% in volume, which in turn flake off as a powder that is pyrophoric. It is radioactive and can accumulate in bones, which makes the handling of plutonium dangerous.

Platinum Chemical element with atomic number 78

Platinum is a chemical element with the symbol Pt and atomic number 78. It is a dense, malleable, ductile, highly unreactive, precious, silverish-white transition metal. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platino, meaning "little silver".

Initial experiments yielded four americium isotopes: 241Am, 242Am, 239Am and 238Am. Americium-241 was directly obtained from plutonium upon absorption of two neutrons. It decays by emission of a α-particle to 237Np; the half-life of this decay was first determined as 510±20 years but then corrected to 432.2 years. [13]

Americium-241 isotope of americium

Americium-241(241Am, Am-241) is an isotope of americium. Like all isotopes of americium, it is radioactive, with a half-life of 432.2 years. 241Am is the most common isotope of americium as well as the most prevalent isotope of americium in nuclear waste. It is commonly found in ionization type smoke detectors and is a potential fuel for long-lifetime radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Its common parent nuclides are β from 241Pu, EC from 241Cm, and α from 245Bk. 241Am is fissile and the critical mass of a bare sphere is 57.6-75.6 kilograms and a sphere diameter of 19–21 centimeters. Americium-241 has a specific activity of 3.43 Ci/g (curies per gram or 126.8 gigabecquerels (GBq) per gram). It is commonly found in the form of americium-241 dioxide (241AmO2). This isotope also has one meta state; 241mAm, with an excitation energy of 2.2 MeV, and a half-life of 1.23 μs. The presence of americium-241 in plutonium is determined by the original concentration of plutonium-241 and the sample age. Because of the low penetration of alpha radiation, americium-241 only poses a health risk when ingested or inhaled. Older samples of plutonium containing plutonium-241 contain a buildup of 241Am. A chemical removal of americium-241 from reworked plutonium (e.g. during reworking of plutonium pits) may be required in some cases.

Alpha particle helium-4 nucleus; a particles consisting of two protons and two neutrons bound together

Alpha particles, also called alpha ray or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+
or 4
indicating a helium ion with a +2 charge. If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle becomes a normal helium atom 4

Half-life is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo, or how long stable atoms survive, radioactive decay. The term is also used more generally to characterize any type of exponential or non-exponential decay. For example, the medical sciences refer to the biological half-life of drugs and other chemicals in the human body. The converse of half-life is doubling time.

The times are half-lives

The second isotope 242Am was produced upon neutron bombardment of the already-created 241Am. Upon rapid β-decay, 242Am converts into the isotope of curium 242Cm (which had been discovered previously). The half-life of this decay was initially determined at 17 hours, which was close to the presently accepted value of 16.02 h. [13]

The discovery of americium and curium in 1944 was closely related to the Manhattan Project; the results were confidential and declassified only in 1945. Seaborg leaked the synthesis of the elements 95 and 96 on the U.S. radio show for children Quiz Kids five days before the official presentation at an American Chemical Society meeting on 11 November 1945, when one of the listeners asked whether any new transuranium element beside plutonium and neptunium had been discovered during the war. [9] After the discovery of americium isotopes 241Am and 242Am, their production and compounds were patented listing only Seaborg as the inventor. [14] The initial americium samples weighed a few micrograms; they were barely visible and were identified by their radioactivity. The first substantial amounts of metallic americium weighing 40–200 micrograms were not prepared until 1951 by reduction of americium(III) fluoride with barium metal in high vacuum at 1100 °C. [15]


Americium was detected in the fallout from the Ivy Mike nuclear test. Ivy Mike - mushroom cloud.jpg
Americium was detected in the fallout from the Ivy Mike nuclear test.

The longest-lived and most common isotopes of americium, 241Am and 243Am, have half-lives of 432.2 and 7,370 years, respectively. Therefore, any primordial americium (americium that was present on Earth during its formation) should have decayed by now. Trace amounts of americium probably occur naturally in uranium minerals as a result of nuclear reactions, though this has not been confirmed. [16] [17]

Existing americium is concentrated in the areas used for the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted between 1945 and 1980, as well as at the sites of nuclear incidents, such as the Chernobyl disaster. For example, the analysis of the debris at the testing site of the first U.S. hydrogen bomb, Ivy Mike, (1 November 1952, Enewetak Atoll), revealed high concentrations of various actinides including americium; but due to military secrecy, this result was not published until later, in 1956. [18] Trinitite, the glassy residue left on the desert floor near Alamogordo, New Mexico, after the plutonium-based Trinity nuclear bomb test on 16 July 1945, contains traces of americium-241. Elevated levels of americium were also detected at the crash site of a US Boeing B-52 bomber aircraft, which carried four hydrogen bombs, in 1968 in Greenland. [19]

In other regions, the average radioactivity of surface soil due to residual americium is only about 0.01  picocuries/g (0.37  mBq/g). Atmospheric americium compounds are poorly soluble in common solvents and mostly adhere to soil particles. Soil analysis revealed about 1,900 times higher concentration of americium inside sandy soil particles than in the water present in the soil pores; an even higher ratio was measured in loam soils. [20]

Americium is produced mostly artificially in small quantities, for research purposes. A tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains about 100 grams of various americium isotopes, mostly 241Am and 243Am. [21] Their prolonged radioactivity is undesirable for the disposal, and therefore americium, together with other long-lived actinides, must be neutralized. The associated procedure may involve several steps, where americium is first separated and then converted by neutron bombardment in special reactors to short-lived nuclides. This procedure is well known as nuclear transmutation, but it is still being developed for americium. [22] [23] The transuranic elements from americium to fermium occurred naturally in the natural nuclear fission reactor at Oklo, but no longer do so. [24]

Synthesis and extraction

Isotope nucleosynthesis

Chromatographic elution curves revealing the similarity between the lanthanides Tb, Gd, and Eu and the corresponding actinides Bk, Cm, and Am. Elutionskurven Tb Gd Eu und Bk Cm Am.png
Chromatographic elution curves revealing the similarity between the lanthanides Tb, Gd, and Eu and the corresponding actinides Bk, Cm, and Am.

Americium has been produced in small quantities in nuclear reactors for decades, and kilograms of its 241Am and 243Am isotopes have been accumulated by now. [25] Nevertheless, since it was first offered for sale in 1962, its price, about 1,500 USD per gram of 241Am, remains almost unchanged owing to the very complex separation procedure. [26] The heavier isotope 243Am is produced in much smaller amounts; it is thus more difficult to separate, resulting in a higher cost of the order 100,000–160,000 USD/g. [27] [28]

Americium is not synthesized directly from uranium – the most common reactor material – but from the plutonium isotope 239Pu. The latter needs to be produced first, according to the following nuclear process:

The capture of two neutrons by 239Pu (a so-called (n,γ) reaction), followed by a β-decay, results in 241Am:

The plutonium present in spent nuclear fuel contains about 12% of 241Pu. Because it spontaneously converts to 241Am, 241Pu can be extracted and may be used to generate further 241Am. [26] However, this process is rather slow: half of the original amount of 241Pu decays to 241Am after about 15 years, and the 241Am amount reaches a maximum after 70 years. [29]

The obtained 241Am can be used for generating heavier americium isotopes by further neutron capture inside a nuclear reactor. In a light water reactor (LWR), 79% of 241Am converts to 242Am and 10% to its nuclear isomer 242mAm: [note 1] [30]

Americium-242 has a half-life of only 16 hours, which makes its further conversion to 243Am extremely inefficient. The latter isotope is produced instead in a process where 239Pu captures four neutrons under high neutron flux:

Metal generation

Most synthesis routines yield a mixture of different actinide isotopes in oxide forms, from which isotopes of americium can be separated. In a typical procedure, the spent reactor fuel (e.g. MOX fuel) is dissolved in nitric acid, and the bulk of uranium and plutonium is removed using a PUREX-type extraction (Plutonium–URanium EXtraction) with tributyl phosphate in a hydrocarbon. The lanthanides and remaining actinides are then separated from the aqueous residue (raffinate) by a diamide-based extraction, to give, after stripping, a mixture of trivalent actinides and lanthanides. Americium compounds are then selectively extracted using multi-step chromatographic and centrifugation techniques [31] with an appropriate reagent. A large amount of work has been done on the solvent extraction of americium. For example, a 2003 EU-funded project codenamed "EUROPART" studied triazines and other compounds as potential extraction agents. [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] A bis-triazinyl bipyridine complex was proposed in 2009 as such a reagent is highly selective to americium (and curium). [37] Separation of americium from the highly similar curium can be achieved by treating a slurry of their hydroxides in aqueous sodium bicarbonate with ozone, at elevated temperatures. Both Am and Cm are mostly present in solutions in the +3 valence state; whereas curium remains unchanged, americium oxidizes to soluble Am(IV) complexes which can be washed away. [38]

Metallic americium is obtained by reduction from its compounds. Americium(III) fluoride was first used for this purpose. The reaction was conducted using elemental barium as reducing agent in a water- and oxygen-free environment inside an apparatus made of tantalum and tungsten. [15] [39] [40]

An alternative is the reduction of americium dioxide by metallic lanthanum or thorium: [40] [41]

Physical properties

Double-hexagonal close packing with the layer sequence ABAC in the crystal structure of a-americium (A: green, B: blue, C: red). Closest packing ABAC.png
Double-hexagonal close packing with the layer sequence ABAC in the crystal structure of α-americium (A: green, B: blue, C: red).

In the periodic table, americium is located to the right of plutonium, to the left of curium, and below the lanthanide europium, with which it shares many similarities in physical and chemical properties. Americium is a highly radioactive element. When freshly prepared, it has a silvery-white metallic lustre, but then slowly tarnishes in air. With a density of 12 g/cm3, americium is less dense than both curium (13.52 g/cm3) and plutonium (19.8 g/cm3); but has a higher density than europium (5.264 g/cm3)—mostly because of its higher atomic mass. Americium is relatively soft and easily deformable and has a significantly lower bulk modulus than the actinides before it: Th, Pa, U, Np and Pu. [42] Its melting point of 1173 °C is significantly higher than that of plutonium (639 °C) and europium (826 °C), but lower than for curium (1340 °C). [41] [41] [43]

At ambient conditions, americium is present in its most stable α form which has a hexagonal crystal symmetry, and a space group P63/mmc with cell parameters a = 346.8  pm and c = 1124 pm, and four atoms per unit cell. The crystal consists of a double-hexagonal close packing with the layer sequence ABAC and so is isotypic with α-lanthanum and several actinides such as α-curium. [39] [43] The crystal structure of americium changes with pressure and temperature. When compressed at room temperature to 5 GPa, α-Am transforms to the β modification, which has a face-centered cubic (fcc) symmetry, space group Fm3m and lattice constant a = 489 pm. This fcc structure is equivalent to the closest packing with the sequence ABC. [39] [43] Upon further compression to 23 GPa, americium transforms to an orthorhombic γ-Am structure similar to that of α-uranium. There are no further transitions observed up to 52 GPa, except for an appearance of a monoclinic phase at pressures between 10 and 15 GPa. [42] There is no consistency on the status of this phase in the literature, which also sometimes lists the α, β and γ phases as I, II and III. The β-γ transition is accompanied by a 6% decrease in the crystal volume; although theory also predicts a significant volume change for the α-β transition, it is not observed experimentally. The pressure of the α-β transition decreases with increasing temperature, and when α-americium is heated at ambient pressure, at 770 °C it changes into an fcc phase which is different from β-Am, and at 1075 °C it converts to a body-centered cubic structure. The pressure-temperature phase diagram of americium is thus rather similar to those of lanthanum, praseodymium and neodymium. [44]

As with many other actinides, self-damage of the crystal structure due to alpha-particle irradiation is intrinsic to americium. It is especially noticeable at low temperatures, where the mobility of the produced structure defects is relatively low, by broadening of X-ray diffraction peaks. This effect makes somewhat uncertain the temperature of americium and some of its properties, such as electrical resistivity. [45] So for americium-241, the resistivity at 4.2 K increases with time from about 2 µOhm·cm to 10 µOhm·cm after 40 hours, and saturates at about 16 µOhm·cm after 140 hours. This effect is less pronounced at room temperature, due to annihilation of radiation defects; also heating to room temperature the sample which was kept for hours at low temperatures restores its resistivity. In fresh samples, the resistivity gradually increases with temperature from about 2 µOhm·cm at liquid helium to 69 µOhm·cm at room temperature; this behavior is similar to that of neptunium, uranium, thorium and protactinium, but is different from plutonium and curium which show a rapid rise up to 60 K followed by saturation. The room temperature value for americium is lower than that of neptunium, plutonium and curium, but higher than for uranium, thorium and protactinium. [1]

Americium is paramagnetic in a wide temperature range, from that of liquid helium, to room temperature and above. This behavior is markedly different from that of its neighbor curium which exhibits antiferromagnetic transition at 52 K. [46] The thermal expansion coefficient of americium is slightly anisotropic and amounts to (7.5±0.2)×10−6 /°C along the shorter a axis and (6.2±0.4)×10−6 /°C for the longer c hexagonal axis. [43] The enthalpy of dissolution of americium metal in hydrochloric acid at standard conditions is −620.6±1.3 kJ/mol, from which the standard enthalpy change of formationfH°) of aqueous Am3+ ion is −621.2±2.0 kJ/mol. The standard potential Am3+/Am0 is −2.08±0.01 V. [47]

Chemical properties

Americium ions in solution: Am (left) and Am (right). Am is colorless at low and reddish at higher concentrations. Americium34.jpg
Americium ions in solution: Am (left) and Am (right). Am is colorless at low and reddish at higher concentrations.

Americium readily reacts with oxygen and dissolves well in acids. The most common oxidation state for americium is +3, [48] in which americium compounds are rather stable against oxidation and reduction. In this sense, americium is chemically similar to most lanthanides. The trivalent americium forms insoluble fluoride, oxalate, iodate, hydroxide, phosphate and other salts. [48] Other oxidation states have been observed between +2 and +7, which is the widest range among the actinide elements. Their color in aqueous solutions varies as follows: Am3+ (colorless to yellow-reddish), Am4+ (yellow-reddish), AmVO+
; (yellow), AmVIO2+
(brown) and AmVIIO5−
(dark green). [49] [50] All oxidation states have their characteristic optical absorption spectra, with a few sharp peaks in the visible and mid-infrared regions, and the position and intensity of these peaks can be converted into the concentrations of the corresponding oxidation states. [51] [52] [53] For example, Am(III) has two sharp peaks at 504 and 811 nm, Am(V) at 514 and 715 nm, and Am(VI) at 666 and 992 nm. [54]

Americium compounds with oxidation state +4 and higher are strong oxidizing agents, comparable in strength to the permanganate ion (MnO
) in acidic solutions. [55] Whereas the Am4+ ions are unstable in solutions and readily convert to Am3+, the +4 oxidation state occurs well in solids, such as americium dioxide (AmO2) and americium(IV) fluoride (AmF4).

All pentavalent and hexavalent americium compounds are complex salts such as KAmO2F2, Li3AmO4 and Li6AmO6, Ba3AmO6, AmO2F2. These high oxidation states Am(IV), Am(V) and Am(VI) can be prepared from Am(III) by oxidation with ammonium persulfate in dilute nitric acid, [56] with silver(I) oxide in perchloric acid, [54] or with ozone or sodium persulfate in sodium carbonate solutions. [53] The pentavalent oxidation state of americium was first observed in 1951. [57] It is present in aqueous solution in the form of AmO+
ions (acidic) or AmO
ions (alkaline) which are however unstable and subject to several rapid disproportionation reactions: [58] [59] [60]

Chemical compounds

Oxygen compounds

Three americium oxides are known, with the oxidation states +2 (AmO), +3 (Am2O3) and +4 (AmO2). Americium(II) oxide was prepared in minute amounts and has not been characterized in details. [61] Americium(III) oxide is a red-brown solid with a melting point of 2205 °C. [62] Americium(IV) oxide is the main form of solid americium which is used in nearly all its applications. As most other actinide dioxides, it is a black solid with a cubic (fluorite) crystal structure. [63]

The oxalate of americium(III), vacuum dried at room temperature, has the chemical formula Am2(C2O4)3·7H2O. Upon heating in vacuum, it loses water at 240 °C and starts decomposing into AmO2 at 300 °C, the decomposition completes at about 470 °C. [48] The initial oxalate dissolves in nitric acid with the maximum solubility of 0.25 g/L. [64]


Halides of americium are known for the oxidation states +2, +3 and +4, [65] where the +3 is most stable, especially in solutions. [66]

Oxidation stateFClBrI
+4 Americium(IV) fluoride
pale pink
+3 Americium(III) fluoride
Americium(III) chloride
Americium(III) bromide
light yellow
Americium(III) iodide
light yellow
+2 Americium(II) chloride
Americium(II) bromide
Americium(II) iodide

Reduction of Am(III) compounds with sodium amalgam yields Am(II) salts – the black halides AmCl2, AmBr2 and AmI2. They are very sensitive to oxygen and oxidize in water, releasing hydrogen and converting back to the Am(III) state. Specific lattice constants are:

Americium(III) fluoride (AmF3) is poorly soluble and precipitates upon reaction of Am3+ and fluoride ions in weak acidic solutions:

The tetravalent americium(IV) fluoride (AmF4) is obtained by reacting solid americium(III) fluoride with molecular fluorine: [69] [70]

Another known form of solid tetravalent americium chloride is KAmF5. [69] [71] Tetravalent americium has also been observed in the aqueous phase. For this purpose, black Am(OH)4 was dissolved in 15-M NH4F with the americium concentration of 0.01 M. The resulting reddish solution had a characteristic optical absorption spectrum which is similar to that of AmF4 but differed from other oxidation states of americium. Heating the Am(IV) solution to 90 °C did not result in its disproportionation or reduction, however a slow reduction was observed to Am(III) and assigned to self-irradiation of americium by alpha particles. [52]

Most americium(III) halides form hexagonal crystals with slight variation of the color and exact structure between the halogens. So, chloride (AmCl3) is reddish and has a structure isotypic to uranium(III) chloride (space group P63/m) and the melting point of 715 °C. [65] The fluoride is isotypic to LaF3 (space group P63/mmc) and the iodide to BiI3 (space group R3). The bromide is an exception with the orthorhombic PuBr3-type structure and space group Cmcm. [66] Crystals of americium hexahydrate (AmCl3·6H2O) can be prepared by dissolving americium dioxide in hydrochloric acid and evaporating the liquid. Those crystals are hygroscopic and have yellow-reddish color and a monoclinic crystal structure. [72]

Oxyhalides of americium in the form AmVIO2X2, AmVO2X, AmIVOX2 and AmIIIOX can be obtained by reacting the corresponding americium halide with oxygen or Sb2O3, and AmOCl can also be produced by vapor phase hydrolysis: [68]

Chalcogenides and pnictides

The known chalcogenides of americium include the sulfide AmS2, [73] selenides AmSe2 and Am3Se4, [73] [74] and tellurides Am2Te3 and AmTe2. [75] The pnictides of americium (243Am) of the AmX type are known for the elements phosphorus, arsenic, [76] antimony and bismuth. They crystallize in the rock-salt lattice. [74]

Silicides and borides

Americium monosilicide (AmSi) and "disilicide" (nominally AmSix with: 1.87 < x < 2.0) were obtained by reduction of americium(III) fluoride with elementary silicon in vacuum at 1050 °C (AmSi) and 1150−1200 °C (AmSix). AmSi is a black solid isomorphic with LaSi, it has an orthorhombic crystal symmetry. AmSix has a bright silvery lustre and a tetragonal crystal lattice (space group I41/amd), it is isomorphic with PuSi2 and ThSi2. [77] Borides of americium include AmB4 and AmB6. The tetraboride can be obtained by heating an oxide or halide of americium with magnesium diboride in vacuum or inert atmosphere. [78] [79]

Organoamericium compounds

Predicted structure of amerocene [(e -C8H8)2Am] Uranocene-3D-balls.png
Predicted structure of amerocene [(η -C8H8)2Am]

Analogous to uranocene, americium forms the organometallic compound amerocene with two cyclooctatetraene ligands, with the chemical formula (η8-C8H8)2Am. [80] A cyclopentadienyl complex is also known that is likely to be stoichiometrically AmCp3. [81] [82]

Formation of the complexes of the type Am(n-C3H7-BTP)3, where BTP stands for 2,6-di(1,2,4-triazin-3-yl)pyridine, in solutions containing n-C3H7-BTP and Am3+ ions has been confirmed by EXAFS. Some of these BTP-type complexes selectively interact with americium and therefore are useful in its selective separation from lanthanides and another actinides. [83]

Biological aspects

Americium is an artificial element of recent origin, and thus does not have a biological requirement. [84] [85] It is harmful to life. It has been proposed to use bacteria for removal of americium and other heavy metals from rivers and streams. Thus, Enterobacteriaceae of the genus Citrobacter precipitate americium ions from aqueous solutions, binding them into a metal-phosphate complex at their cell walls. [86] Several studies have been reported on the biosorption and bioaccumulation of americium by bacteria [87] [88] and fungi. [89]


The isotope 242mAm (half-life 141 years) has the largest cross sections for absorption of thermal neutrons (5,700 barns), [90] that results in a small critical mass for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass for a bare 242mAm sphere is about 9–14 kg (the uncertainty results from insufficient knowledge of its material properties). It can be lowered to 3–5 kg with a metal reflector and should become even smaller with a water reflector. [91] Such small critical mass is favorable for portable nuclear weapons, but those based on 242mAm are not known yet, probably because of its scarcity and high price. The critical masses of two other readily available isotopes, 241Am and 243Am, are relatively high – 57.6 to 75.6 kg for 241Am and 209 kg for 243Am. [92] Scarcity and high price yet hinder application of americium as a nuclear fuel in nuclear reactors. [93]

There are proposals of very compact 10-kW high-flux reactors using as little as 20 grams of 242mAm. Such low-power reactors would be relatively safe to use as neutron sources for radiation therapy in hospitals. [94]


About 19 isotopes and 8 nuclear isomers are known for americium. There are two long-lived alpha-emitters; 243Am has a half-life of 7,370 years and is the most stable isotope, and 241Am has a half-life of 432.2 years. The most stable nuclear isomer is 242m1Am; it has a long half-life of 141 years. The half-lives of other isotopes and isomers range from 0.64 microseconds for 245m1Am to 50.8 hours for 240Am. As with most other actinides, the isotopes of americium with odd number of neutrons have relatively high rate of nuclear fission and low critical mass. [13]

Americium-241 decays to 237Np emitting alpha particles of 5 different energies, mostly at 5.486 MeV (85.2%) and 5.443 MeV (12.8%). Because many of the resulting states are metastable, they also emit gamma rays with the discrete energies between 26.3 and 158.5 keV. [95]

Americium-242 is a short-lived isotope with a half-life of 16.02 h. [13] It mostly (82.7%) converts by β-decay to 242Cm, but also by electron capture to 242Pu (17.3%). Both 242Cm and 242Pu transform via nearly the same decay chain through 238Pu down to 234U.

Nearly all (99.541%) of 242m1Am decays by internal conversion to 242Am and the remaining 0.459% by α-decay to 238Np. The latter subsequently decays to 238Pu and then to 234U. [13]

Americium-243 transforms by α-emission into 239Np, which converts by β-decay to 239Pu, and the 239Pu changes into 235U by emitting an α-particle.


Residential smoke detector.jpg
Outside and inside view of an americium-based smoke detector

Ionization-type smoke detector

Americium is used in the most common type of household smoke detector, which uses 241Am in the form of americium dioxide as its source of ionizing radiation. [96] This isotope is preferred over 226 Ra because it emits 5 times more alpha particles and relatively little harmful gamma radiation.

The amount of americium in a typical new smoke detector is 1  microcurie (37  kBq) or 0.29 microgram. This amount declines slowly as the americium decays into neptunium-237, a different transuranic element with a much longer half-life (about 2.14 million years). With its half-life of 432.2 years, the americium in a smoke detector includes about 3% neptunium after 19 years, and about 5% after 32 years. The radiation passes through an ionization chamber, an air-filled space between two electrodes, and permits a small, constant current between the electrodes. Any smoke that enters the chamber absorbs the alpha particles, which reduces the ionization and affects this current, triggering the alarm. Compared to the alternative optical smoke detector, the ionization smoke detector is cheaper and can detect particles which are too small to produce significant light scattering; however, it is more prone to false alarms. [97] [98] [99] [100]


As 241Am has a roughly similar half-life to 238Pu (432.2 years vs. 87 years), it has been proposed as an active element of radioisotope thermoelectric generators, for example in spacecraft. [101] Although americium produces less heat and electricity – the power yield is 114.7 mW/g for 241Am and 6.31 mW/g for 243Am [1] (cf. 390 mW/g for 238Pu) [101] – and its radiation poses more threat to humans owing to neutron emission, the European Space Agency is considering using americium for its space probes. [102]

Another proposed space-related application of americium is a fuel for space ships with nuclear propulsion. It relies on the very high rate of nuclear fission of 242mAm, which can be maintained even in a micrometer-thick foil. Small thickness avoids the problem of self-absorption of emitted radiation. This problem is pertinent to uranium or plutonium rods, in which only surface layers provide alpha-particles. [103] [104] The fission products of 242mAm can either directly propel the spaceship or they can heat a thrusting gas. They can also transfer their energy to a fluid and generate electricity through a magnetohydrodynamic generator. [105]

One more proposal which utilizes the high nuclear fission rate of 242mAm is a nuclear battery. Its design relies not on the energy of the emitted by americium alpha particles, but on their charge, that is the americium acts as the self-sustaining "cathode". A single 3.2 kg 242mAm charge of such battery could provide about 140 kW of power over a period of 80 days. [106] Even with all the potential benefits, the current applications of 242mAm are as yet hindered by the scarcity and high price of this particular nuclear isomer. [105]

In 2019, researchers at the UK National Nuclear Laboratory and the University of Leicester demonstrated the use of heat generated by americium to illuminate a small light bulb. This technology could lead to systems to power missions with durations up to 400 years into interstellar space, where solar panels do not function. [107] [108]

Neutron source

The oxide of 241Am pressed with beryllium is an efficient neutron source. Here americium acts as the alpha source, and beryllium produces neutrons owing to its large cross-section for the (α,n) nuclear reaction:

The most widespread use of 241AmBe neutron sources is a neutron probe – a device used to measure the quantity of water present in soil, as well as moisture/density for quality control in highway construction. 241Am neutron sources are also used in well logging applications, as well as in neutron radiography, tomography and other radiochemical investigations. [109]

Production of other elements

Americium is a starting material for the production of other transuranic elements and transactinides – for example, 82.7% of 242Am decays to 242Cm and 17.3% to 242Pu. In the nuclear reactor, 242Am is also up-converted by neutron capture to 243Am and 244Am, which transforms by β-decay to 244Cm:

Irradiation of 241Am by 12C or 22Ne ions yields the isotopes 247Es (einsteinium) or 260Db (dubnium), respectively. [109] Furthermore, the element berkelium (243Bk isotope) had been first intentionally produced and identified by bombarding 241Am with alpha particles, in 1949, by the same Berkeley group, using the same 60-inch cyclotron. Similarly, nobelium was produced at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russia, in 1965 in several reactions, one of which included irradiation of 243Am with 15N ions. Besides, one of the synthesis reactions for lawrencium, discovered by scientists at Berkeley and Dubna, included bombardment of 243Am with 18O. [8]


Americium-241 has been used as a portable source of both gamma rays and alpha particles for a number of medical and industrial uses. The 59.5409 keV gamma ray emissions from 241Am in such sources can be used for indirect analysis of materials in radiography and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, as well as for quality control in fixed nuclear density gauges and nuclear densometers. For example, the element has been employed to gauge glass thickness to help create flat glass. [25] Americium-241 is also suitable for calibration of gamma-ray spectrometers in the low-energy range, since its spectrum consists of nearly a single peak and negligible Compton continuum (at least three orders of magnitude lower intensity). [110] Americium-241 gamma rays were also used to provide passive diagnosis of thyroid function. This medical application is however obsolete.

Health concerns

As a highly radioactive element, americium and its compounds must be handled only in an appropriate laboratory under special arrangements. Although most americium isotopes predominantly emit alpha particles which can be blocked by thin layers of common materials, many of the daughter products emit gamma-rays and neutrons which have a long penetration depth. [111]

If consumed, most of the americium is excreted within a few days, with only 0.05% absorbed in the blood, of which roughly 45% goes to the liver and 45% to the bones, and the remaining 10% is excreted. The uptake to the liver depends on the individual and increases with age. In the bones, americium is first deposited over cortical and trabecular surfaces and slowly redistributes over the bone with time. The biological half-life of 241Am is 50 years in the bones and 20 years in the liver, whereas in the gonads (testicles and ovaries) it remains permanently; in all these organs, americium promotes formation of cancer cells as a result of its radioactivity. [20] [112] [113]

Americium often enters landfills from discarded smoke detectors. The rules associated with the disposal of smoke detectors are relaxed in most jurisdictions. In 1994, 17-year-old David Hahn extracted the americium from about 100 smoke detectors in an attempt to build a breeder nuclear reactor. [114] [115] [116] [117] There have been a few cases of exposure to americium, the worst case being that of chemical operations technician Harold McCluskey, who at the age of 64 was exposed to 500 times the occupational standard for americium-241 as a result of an explosion in his lab. McCluskey died at the age of 75 of unrelated pre-existing disease. [118] [119]

See also


  1. The "metastable" state is marked by the letter m.

Related Research Articles

The actinide or actinoid series encompasses the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium.

Berkelium Chemical element with atomic number 97

Berkelium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the symbol Bk and atomic number 97. It is a member of the actinide and transuranium element series. It is named after the city of Berkeley, California, the location of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where it was discovered in December 1949. Berkelium was the fifth transuranium element discovered after neptunium, plutonium, curium and americium.

Curium Chemical element with atomic number 96

Curium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the symbol Cm and atomic number 96. This element of the actinide series was named after Marie and Pierre Curie – both were known for their research on radioactivity. Curium was first intentionally produced and identified in July 1944 by the group of Glenn T. Seaborg at the University of California, Berkeley. The discovery was kept secret and only released to the public in November 1947. Most curium is produced by bombarding uranium or plutonium with neutrons in nuclear reactors – one tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains about 20 grams of curium.

Californium Chemical element with atomic number 98

Californium is a radioactive chemical element with the symbol Cf and atomic number 98. The element was first synthesized in 1950 at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, by bombarding curium with alpha particles. It is an actinide element, the sixth transuranium element to be synthesized, and has the second-highest atomic mass of all the elements that have been produced in amounts large enough to see with the unaided eye. The element was named after the university and the state of California.

Einsteinium Chemical element with atomic number 99

Einsteinium is a synthetic element with the symbol Es and atomic number 99. As a member of the actinide series, it is the seventh transuranic element.

Fissile material

In nuclear engineering, fissile material is material capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. By definition, fissile material can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of thermal energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons. Fissile material can be used to fuel thermal-neutron reactors, fast-neutron reactors and nuclear explosives.

Mixed oxide fuel, commonly referred to as MOX fuel, is nuclear fuel that contains more than one oxide of fissile material, usually consisting of plutonium blended with natural uranium, reprocessed uranium, or depleted uranium. MOX fuel is an alternative to the low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in the light water reactors that predominate nuclear power generation.

Fertile material

Fertile material is a material that, although not itself fissionable by thermal neutrons, can be converted into a fissile material by neutron absorption and subsequent nuclei conversions.

Plutonium-239 isotope of plutonium

Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium. Plutonium-239 is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons, although uranium-235 has also been used. Plutonium-239 is also one of the three main isotopes demonstrated usable as fuel in thermal spectrum nuclear reactors, along with uranium-235 and uranium-233. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,110 years.

Plutonium (94Pu) is an artificial element, except for trace quantities resulting from neutron capture by uranium, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all artificial elements, it has no stable isotopes. It was synthesized long before being found in nature, the first isotope synthesized being 238Pu in 1940. Twenty plutonium radioisotopes have been characterized. The most stable are plutonium-244 with a half-life of 80.8 million years, plutonium-242 with a half-life of 373,300 years, and plutonium-239 with a half-life of 24,110 years. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 7,000 years. This element also has eight meta states, though none are very stable; all meta states have half-lives of less than one second.

Minor actinide

The minor actinides are the actinide elements in used nuclear fuel other than uranium and plutonium, which are termed the major actinides. The minor actinides include neptunium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, and fermium. The most important isotopes in spent nuclear fuel are neptunium-237, americium-241, americium-243, curium-242 through -248, and californium-249 through -252.

Curium(III) oxide chemical compound

Curium(III) oxide is a compound composed of curium and oxygen with the chemical formula Cm2O3. It is a crystalline solid with a unit cell that contains two curium atoms and three oxygen atoms. The simplest synthesis equation involves the reaction of curium(III) metal with O2−: 2 Cm3+ + 3 O2− ---> Cm2O3. Curium trioxide can exist as five polymorphic forms. Two of the forms exist at extremely high temperatures, making it difficult for experimental studies to be done on the formation of their structures. The three other possible forms which curium sesquioxide can take are the body-centered cubic form, the monoclinic form, and the hexagonal form. Curium(III) oxide is either white or light tan in color and, while insoluble in water, is soluble in inorganic and mineral acids. Its synthesis was first recognized in 1955.

Spent nuclear fuel nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant)

Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor. It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and depending on its point along the nuclear fuel cycle, it may have considerably different isotopic constituents.

Plutonium-241 isotope of plutonium

Plutonium-241 is an isotope of plutonium formed when plutonium-240 captures a neutron. Like 239Pu but unlike 240Pu, 241Pu is fissile, with a neutron absorption cross section about 1/3 greater than 239Pu, and a similar probability of fissioning on neutron absorption, around 73%. In the non-fission case, neutron capture produces plutonium-242. In general, isotopes with an odd number of neutrons are both more likely to absorb a neutron, and more likely to undergo fission on neutron absorption, than isotopes with an even number of neutrons.

Plutonium-242 is one of the isotopes of plutonium, the second longest-lived, with a half-life of 373,300 years. The half-life of 242Pu is about 15 times longer than that of 239Pu; therefore, it is one-fifteenth as radioactive, and not one of the larger contributors to nuclear waste radioactivity. 242Pu's gamma ray emissions are also weaker than those of the other isotopes.

Nuclear fission splits a heavy nucleus such as uranium or plutonium into two lighter nuclei, which are called fission products. Yield refers to the fraction of a fission product produced per fission.

Long-lived fission products (LLFPs) are radioactive materials with a long half-life produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.


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Further reading