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About this element
Einsteinium is the 99th element on the periodic table, which is a collection of chemical elements. It does not occur naturally on Earth and can only be produced in microscopic quantities in nuclear reactors. It is also highly radioactive and rapidly decays, making it difficult to study.
Its properties were unknown for decades but now, scientists have managed to unravel the basic properties of this elusive element.
In order to do this, they studied a sample of the element that was produced at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by bombarding it with neutrons and having it undergo radioactive decay. This process is a very advanced technique that was not available in the 1960s or even in recent years.
The researchers then bonded the atoms of the element to groups of organic molecules called ligands, which act as luminescent antennas for the light that the atoms emit. Then they placed the ligands in a specialized 3D-printed holder that would protect them from radiation as they were being studied.
They then measured the average distance between two bonded atoms, a fundamental chemical property known as bond length. The team found that the einsteinium bond length is significantly shorter than the average for the rest of the actinides – a finding that had been predicted in theory but was never experimentally confirmed before now.
The element also luminesces very differently when it is exposed to light, which Carter describes as an “unprecedented physical phenomenon”. This means that the atoms are moving at speeds that are much lower than they were expected to be.