back to article Nearly 70 years after America made einsteinium in its first full-scale thermo-nuke experiment, mystery element yields secrets of its chemistry

Chemists have measured a fundamental chemical property of einsteinium, a mysterious and radioactive element that was discovered in the debris of America's first full-scale thermonuclear device test – the Ivy Mike shot in 1952. Einsteinium (Es) has an atomic number of 99 and is buried at the bottom of the periodic table, where …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Einsteinium is an ideal target for making super heavy elements with atomic numbers of 119 and beyond

    So there's another chance to have Lemmium at last!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      They say Lemmium can't be killed by.. er, *created by* conventional weapons.

  2. dajames Silver badge

    The element is also interesting for another reason: it could help chemists create elements yet to be discovered.

    Chemists don't make elements -- Physicists do that.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      "Chemists don't make elements -- Physicists do that."

      Alchemists try to, as per the Philosopher's Stone.

      1. aqk
        Pint

        You mean stoned philosophers.

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      Chemist's do it, Pysicists just talk about it.

    3. Uncle Slacky
      Boffin

      All science is either physics or stamp collecting.

      1. BillG
        Go

        Engieering

        Science is divided into two categories - 1) Engineering, and 2) Hobbies

        1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

          Re: Engieering

          And the hobby of a true engineer is engineering.

          1. richdin

            Re: Engineering

            The engineer scientist tells his wife that he's going to his lover for the weekend... tells the girlfriend that he's spending time with the wife... and finally can get some quiet time at the lab to get some work done!

      2. DJO Silver badge

        All science is either physics or stamp collecting.

        And ultimately physics is applied mathematics.

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Boffin

          Physics?

          Fields by purity

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Physics?

            Philosophy is just applied sociology, and mathematics is just applied philosophy, and thus the circle is completed...

            1. Uncle Slacky

              Re: Physics?

              Which probably explains the Wikipedia Philosophy Game/Loop:

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Getting_to_Philosophy

              "Clicking on the first link in the main text of a Wikipedia article, and then repeating the process for subsequent articles, usually leads to the Philosophy article. In February 2016, this was true for 97% of all articles in Wikipedia..."

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge
    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      I'm not convinced that the universe cares about which labels we stuck on each other.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        But we do.

        And that's all that really matters.

        1. jake Silver badge

          All that really matters in this wide, wonderful Universe is our petty little labels? Wow. That must be your picture next to the word hubris in the dictionary.

          1. Blackjack Silver badge

            Humans love labels.

            Imagine a world... without labels.

            Buying for food would be a mite confusing.

    5. Mike Richards

      But you they actually want to be geologists because we get to look after dinosaurs and volcanoes.

  3. Amentheist
    Mushroom

    “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

    It doesn't sound /that/ difficult to make. Just keep a safe distance amirite?

    1. Sceptic Tank
      Terminator

      Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

      There's a ban on testing. Could always nuke Pyongyang and get it there.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

        >There's a ban on testing

        There's also a small practical difficulty prosecuting somebody who has a stock of 10Mt nukes they are prepared to set off

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

        Well someone is channeling General MacArthur. Whilst nukes weren't used against Korea, it turned out napalm did a thorough job of razing the country to burnt earth.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

          That's an interesting fact, until I googled it, I was convinced that napalm didn't make its "debut" until a decade later in Vietnam, and I was about to post asking whether you meant Vietnam, not Korea.

          Just goes to show, "facts not opinions" - glad I checked before making a total tit of myself...

          1. Jaybus

            Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

            Napalm was invented by Harvard organic chemist Julius Fieser in 1942. It was used in the US M2 flamethrower, the M-69 incendiary, and the E-46 cluster bomb (which consisted of 38 M-69s). It was used in the firebombing of more than 60 Japanese cities between March and August 1945.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: “It was discovered by accident in the debris in the first hydrogen bomb”

            Napalm made it's debut in WWII, and while there was some ground-based weapons development, it was primarily used in the fire bombing of Japan in 1945.

  4. Sceptic Tank
    Paris Hilton

    Open YouTube

    I hope there's a YouTube video that explains how you get Einsteinium from Curium by bombarding it with neutrons. Where do the 3x protons come from?

    (Not a scientist ===> )

    1. AlanS
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Open YouTube

      Beta decay: a neutron becomes a proton, emitting an electron. Carbon-14 decays to nitrogen-14 this way.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Open YouTube

        "Becomes."

        Neutron *contains* proton and electron....

        Neutron converts to energy coverts to proton and electron....

        Other...

        "Becomes" is such a vague word.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Open YouTube

          I believe this was detailed in Poul Anderson's excellent 'Uncleftish Beholding': https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/complexity/people/students/dtc/students2011/maitland/fun/

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Open YouTube

          Er, not really. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron) The neutron contains three quarks and one of them can decay into a different kind of quark and produce a W- boson which then decays into an electron and an electron neutrino. Takes about a quarter of an hour if there's nothing else about, so there's probably a cup of tea involved, as well.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: Open YouTube

            My cousin who is a physicist is or was engaged in an experiment to determine just how far out of the Neutron the electron sticks. Or at least that is how he described it to me. Turns out the electron is really close in (they could not detect it with their experiment). I don't understand it, but then:

            As Feynman said: "Anyone who says they understand quantum mechanics does not understand quantum mechanics."

            On the other hand, a quarter of an hour is enough time for my pot of Earl Grey to have brewed and cooled to a nicely drinkable temperature. :o)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Open YouTube

              Surely you must be joking Mr Feyman.

              QM works the way solving an equation works. You fill in the values you know, until you can solve for the remaining unknowns.

              Now describe that as if the equation was the underlying system: "measuring properties, sets the properties and narrows the possible values for the the remaining unknowns, before you measure them they've unknown in many possible states not in a single known state".

              Since the equation models matter at the subatomic level correctly, so that must be correct via mathematical and statistical proofs against observation. The equation MUST BE the model.

              Except it doesn't work. You keep finding repeating patterns which you label with various terms, "quantum teleportation", "entanglement", etc. that don't fit the model and hypothesizing magical solutions where the properties are being transferred from one particle to other, or one photon to another.

              So its not a description of the underlying mechanism, its an approximation model that approximately works most of the time except when it doesn't.

              QM in a nutshell.

              A fitted mathematical model to an unknown system, described as if the mathematical model *was* the system.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Open YouTube

            Changing "becomes" to "decays" doesn't really fix the problem with the vagueness of understanding of the mechanism of it.

            It's not 'neutron to energy to anything', because properties specific to the neutron result in properties in the end particles, so that energy intermediate would have to somehow carry an imprint of that data between the two.

            It's not that the neutron contains a proton + electron neutrino, there's no fixed unevenness to the charge in a neutron to support that.

            This is supposed to be a science right? You supposed to go look in the boxes marked "don't look, here be monsters".

        3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Open YouTube

          A neutron should not be thought of as a sock containing two pool balls. It doesn't contain a proton any more than a photon contains an electron and positron.

          The main problem with the physics of Very Small Things™ is that they do not have precise analogues in our world of Very Large Things™, so whilst we think of particles like little balls, and waves like ripples on a pond, these aren't actually very good analogues for the way subatomic entities work at all - they exhibit some properties of each, sometimes at the same time.

          For instance, in experiments firing electrons at a double-slit, they interfere with each other like waves, and produce a pattern of high and low density on the other side of the slits. We generally think of electrons as particles, but in this case, they are exhibiting wave-like behaviour. They also do this, if you fire them at the two slits one electron at a time, with an individual electron interfering with itself, and the pattern made up by a series of electrons fired individually is the same as that made by sending a whole load at the same time.

          Many subatomic particles also have other properties that don't really have any analogue in the macroscopic world, so once we get past charge, we start talking about things like "spin" then start running out of appropriate words and talk about "strangeness", "charm" and "up" and "down" as properties that avoid breaking the Pauli exclusion principle (which very crudely put, says you can't have two of the same thing in the same place at the same time).

          So yeah, not pool balls in a sock.

          A neutron actually "becomes" a proton through the decay of one of its constituent quarks (a down quark) into a different type of quark (an up quark). In the process, emitting a W- boson, which almost immediately decays into an electron, and an electron neutrino.

          So, if we are to stick with the very simplistic view of a neutron being composed of other particles, which we have already discussed, then the neutron actually also *contains* an electron neutrino.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Strangeness and Charms and Ups and Downs...

            So either Rev Dodgson was well ahead of his time, or someone was a 'Hunting of the Snark' fan...

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: Strangeness and Charms and Ups and Downs...

              I believe that this is indeed where quarks get their name, and not from cheese spread.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open YouTube

      Might be a bit long for YouTube - from the CRC Handbook:

      "About 3 ug of Einsteinium has been produced at Oak Ridge National Laboratories by irradiating for several years kg quantiies of Pu-239 in a reactor to produce Pu-242 ... loaded into target rods for an initial 1-year irradiation at the AEC's Savannah River Plant followed by (4 months) irradiation in a High Flux Isotopic Reactor... removed for chemical separation of the einsteinium from californium"

      All that and it only lasts 270 days!

      I suspect Einsteinium's most significant use will be in making up word puzzles in Chemistry Department alumni magazines.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Open YouTube

        I suspect Einsteinium's most significant use will be in making up word puzzles in Chemistry Department alumni magazines.

        It also regularly seems to pop up on Pointless, as do several of its other actinide siblings.

        Used to get good low scores, but even J Random Punter now seems to have heard of it and says it...

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Open YouTube

          They have even heard of Protactinium too. I need to remember a different verse of Lehrer's 'elements' song.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Open YouTube

            Ruthenium still scores fairly low. We used it to catalyse reduction of CO2 to methane in the carbon dating lab back in the day.

          2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Open YouTube

            I'm not sure "The Masochism Tango" is going to help you.

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: Open YouTube

              ...although given how Einsteinium gets produced, maybe "We'll All Go Together When We Go" is more appropriate...

              1. not.known@this.address
                Thumb Up

                Re: Open YouTube

                "All consumed in an incandescent glow" :-)

        2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Open YouTube

          It's almost as if the contestants have learned to memorise a list of 118 things (it was only 109 back when I studied chemistry)

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: Open YouTube

            (To the tune of the Major-General Song form Gilbert & Sullivan)

            There's Antimony, Arsenic, Aluminum*, Selenium, ...

            *Not Aluminium as he's an American

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Open YouTube

            (it was only 109 back when I studied chemistry)

            For me it was only 4... Yes, I'm old.

            1. hplasm
              Happy

              Re: Open YouTube

              "For me it was only 4... Yes, I'm old."

              Earth Air Fire Water...

              So old you didn't have the Aether?

              Wow - what a fossil!

  5. don't you hate it when you lose your account

    Half Life

    The rate of decay reminds me of a few relationships I've had.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Half Life

      The rate of women leaving you is proportional to the number of women you have at the time?

      1. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

        Re: Half Life

        > The rate of women leaving you is proportional to the number of women you have at the time?

        Sure, you can experimentally verify this, but it may shorten your own full-life.

  6. Big_Boomer

    The dream of stable trans-uranics

    The dream is still there, but actually has less chance of becoming a reality than FTL travel and real live Unicorns. It's useful science, but the end goal is pretty unlikely given that the more they add to the nucleus, the faster it falls apart.

    1. TDog

      Re: The dream of stable trans-uranics

      It is actually a well attested fact that alicorn is the sole known source of stable trans-uranics. Sadly the current dearth of unicorns (last reported in the middle ages) has caused formal validation of the above to be significantly delayed. As soon as a new source of unicorns is found then multiple stable trans-uranics will be available for scientific identification and evaluation.

      Some hypothesise that the the role of alicorn in the philosopher's stone is that of a so called 'nuclear catalyst'. We shall see.

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: The dream of stable trans-uranics

        "As soon as a new source of unicorns is found"

        Produced by the decay of bi-corns. We're watching a herd of them. But the half life is fairly long.

        1. hplasm
          Paris Hilton

          Re: The dream of stable trans-uranics

          "Produced by the decay of bi-corns. We're watching a herd of them. But the half life is fairly long."

          Monocorns -Are they magnetic?

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: The dream of stable trans-uranics

      There are a few astronomers who think they may have found some in a star somewhere where there are some unknown absorption/transmission lines but I do wonder what use the stuff might have and what the definition of 'stable' is. After all H, He and LI are quite stable but Castle Bravo proves we can modify the definition of stable. I wonder how stable a box of transuranics might actually be if hit by a random cosmic ray at just the right spot.

      1. Big_Boomer
        Alien

        Re: The dream of stable trans-uranics

        If they can get enough Neutrons to stick to a Flerovium nucleus they could create the theoretically stable Fl²⁹⁸ or one of the many variants thought to be possible in the "Island of Stability". With the use of terms such as "Magic Numbers" it's no wonder we are discussing Unicorns, Alicorns and why not Pegacorns? I attribute the lack of Unicorn/Alicorn/Pegacorn sightings to reduced consumption of Psilocybin mushrooms in our daily diet. Icon because it's the closest I can get to "Spaced out dude!". :-)

  7. A. Coatsworth
    Pint

    “You cannot control the transmutation process,” Carter said

    That is LOUSY alchemy. Going on that route, they will end up ceating an abomination against God, and probably losing some body parts in the process...

    On a serious note, I love stuff like this. -"We found this cool thing about a rare element" -ok, what benefit can we get from it?" -*shrugs*

    They are doing sicence for the hell of it (or rather, simply to learn more about the world), not to get a quick return of investment.

    1. willi0000000

      Re: “You cannot control the transmutation process,” Carter said

      it's like exploration . . . you don't know what you'll find, and of what you find, not all will be suitable for exploitation but someone will find a way of turning some of the things you find into money.

  8. TDog

    Right spot.

    Where's that? Just inside a covid deniers neocortex? Intriguing but difficult to ensure.

  9. vincent himpe

    Transmutation ?

    in this day and age ? That's how we ended up with covid and stuff. Haven't they learned nothing ?

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Whenever NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive IT is Loosed in the Field, Prepare for Almighty Fireworks

    Carter believes it may have magnetic properties, which could lead to new types of materials.

    Are magnetic properties different from or similar to being attractive to elements?

    And with specific regard as to whether it could help chemists or physicists create elements yet to be discovered, there's always the renegade rogue option to consider, cloaked in SMARTR colours and flying the standards of a Merlin the Magician and Meta Data Base Physician ..... the Virtual Grand Masters and Mistresses, AI Wizards and Witches.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      The title is too long.

      When physicists and chemists talk about "magnetic properties" they don't mean magnetic in the every-day sense where a big lump of magnetised iron can pick up iron filings (this is known as ferromagnetism and is a bulk property caused by making atoms in a solid align). They are talking about things known as diamagnetism and paramagnetism. Diamagnetism is a property exhibited by all elements, and is a (usually very) weak force that pushes against a magnetic field. Paramagnetism is more interesting, and exhibits itself as an attractive force towards a magnetic field. This is due to the (temporary) alignment of unpaired electrons. I'm going from memory here, as the last time I had to study this sort of thing was the best part of a quarter of a century ago.

  11. IGotOut Silver badge

    Just remember kids

    Everything starts with an e.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Just remember kids

      Es are good?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Just remember kids

      It's a good argument for not naming elements after people. Einsteinium is fine but einsteinium just looks wrong and yet the names of elements are not proper nouns.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: Just remember kids

      e ba eck ... 'e's reet!

  12. Werner Heisenberg
    Mushroom

    A possible application for Es-253

    From wiki:

    > The high radioactivity of einsteinium-253 produces a visible glow and rapidly damages its crystalline metal lattice, with released heat of about 1000 watts per gram.

    Sounds like it would make a very effective portable heater. It wouldn't last very long, but hey - sitting in front of it, neither would I!

    Pic of the manufacturing process.

  13. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    I'm struggling with the El Reg SI unit conversion tables this morning...

    "2.38 angstroms”

    I know that is quite big, but how big? Is it 3 Olympic sized swimming pools, or 23.8 Mesopotamian elephants?

    1. redpawn

      Re: I'm struggling with the El Reg SI unit conversion tables this morning...

      It's 238 picometers. When you look at them, they look back, but only for a moment.

  14. Mage Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    You cannot control the transmutation process

    Or, like the Incredible Hulk, we don't know how?

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