The 60-inch cyclotron at theLawrence Radiation Laboratory,University of California, Berkeley, inAugust 1939.The triangle in the glass tubecontains the first sample of americium (as the hydroxide),produced in 1944.
Although americium was likely produced in previous nuclear experiments, it wasfirst intentionally synthesized, isolated and identified in late autumn 1944, at theUniversity of California, Berkeley by Glenn T. Seaborg, Leon O. Morgan, RalphA. James, and Albert Ghiorso. They used a 60-inch cyclotron at the University of California, Berkeley.
The element was chemically identified at theMetallurgical Laboratory (now Argonne National Laboratory) of the Universityof 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 americiumbeing located right below its twin lanthanide element europium; it was thus byanalogy named after another continent, America: "The name americium (after theAmericas) and the symbol Am are suggested for the element on the basis of itsposition as the sixth member of the actinide rare-earth series, analogous toeuropium, Eu, of the lanthanide series."
The new element was isolated from its oxides in a complex, multi-step process.First plutonium-239 nitrate (
) solution was coated on a platinum foil of about 0.5 cm
area, the solution was evaporated and the residue was convertedinto plutonium dioxide (PuO
) by annealing. After cyclotron irradiation, thecoating was dissolved with nitric acid, and then precipitated as the hydroxideusing concentrated aqueous ammonia solution. The residue was dissolved inperchloric acid. Further separation was carried out by ion exchange, yielding acertain isotope of curium. The separation of curium and americium was sopainstaking that those elements were initially called by the Berkeley group as
(from Greek for
(from Latin for
Initial experiments yielded four americium isotopes:
Am. Americium-241 was directly obtained from plutonium upon absorptionof one neutron. It decays by emission of a α-particle to
Np; the half-life of this decay was first determined as 510± 20 years but then corrected to 432.2 years.
The times are half-lives
The second isotope
Am was produced upon neutron bombardment of the already-created
Am. Upon rapidβ-decay,
Am converts into the isotope of curium
Cm (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.
The discovery of americium and curium in 1944 was closely related to the Manhattan Project; the results wereconfidential and declassified only in 1945. Seaborg leaked the synthesis of the elements 95 and 96 on the U.S. radioshow for children, the Quiz Kids, five days before the official presentation at an American Chemical Society meetingon 11 November 1945, when one of the listeners asked whether any new transuranium element beside plutonium andneptunium had been discovered during the war.
After the discovery of americium isotopes