Chemical of the Week: Californium

August 12, 2013

With the warm weather still here, Californium is a good choice for the element of the week! This element was first created in the labs of the University of California, Berkeley in 1950 and is named after the balmy State of California. That was in the good old days when, if you made it, you got to name it! Californium is produced by bombarding other elements (such as curium) with subatomic particles.

U of California researchers work with Californium in the ‘60s. Note the snappy attire!

U of California researchers work with Californium in the ‘60s. Note the snappy attire!

The 252 isotope of this element is a very powerful radioisotope, emitting millions of neutrons per second. It has several practical applications, such as providing the initial radiation input for the start-up of nuclear reactors.

Californium has the distinction of being perhaps the most expensive commodity chemical on earth. The price in 1999 was $60 per microgram, or $60,000,000 per gram, which is about two million times more expensive than gold.