Actinium—a sample rare because of its uselessness

Actinium is a rare, silvery-white, radioactive metal that belongs to the actinide series of elements in the periodic table. It was discovered in 1899 by the French chemist André-Louis Debierne and named after the Greek word “aktis,” which means beam or ray, due to its highly radioactive nature.

One of the most outstanding properties of actinium is its high radioactivity, which makes it an essential element for use in nuclear reactors and other nuclear applications. It has a half-life of 21.8 years and emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays, making it useful in both medicine and industry.

Actinium is produced through a complex process that involves the irradiation of radium-226 in a nuclear reactor. This produces actinium-227, which is then chemically separated and purified to obtain pure actinium metal. Due to its rarity and difficult production process, actinium is one of the most expensive elements on Earth, with a market price of around $150 per milligram.

One interesting fact about actinium is that it was once used in portable X-ray machines. Due to its high radioactivity and ability to emit gamma rays, actinium was a popular source of radiation in early X-ray machines. However, due to its health risks and high cost, it has since been replaced by other elements such as cobalt-60.

Another interesting fact is that actinium has no stable isotopes, meaning that all forms of actinium are radioactive and decay over time. However, some of its isotopes have extremely long half-lives, such as actinium-227, which has a half-life of over 21 years, making it useful in both medical and industrial applications.

In conclusion, actinium is a fascinating element with a unique set of properties that make it essential for use in various industries, particularly in nuclear applications. Its rarity, high cost, and difficult production process make it a highly valuable element, while its radioactivity and lack of stable isotopes make it both fascinating and potentially hazardous.