An Overview about the Chemical Element Rutherfordium

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Rutherfordium is element number 104 in the periodic table. It is a radioactive, man-made super-heavy element. The super-heavy elements are made by accelerating ions of one element then sending them at speed into a target of atoms of another element. This collision causes the two elements to combine usually with the loss of one or more neutrons. These super-heavy elements are all radioactive and have short half-lives.

The first report of the production of element 104 came from workers at the Dubna research facility in the Soviet Union in the year 1964. They used ions of neon-24 to bombard a target of plutonium-242. They suggested the name Kurchatovium and along with the symbol Ku for the new element. This was to honor the head of Soviet Nuclear Research Igor Vasilevich Kurchatov (1903-1960) who had died a few years previously. This new element had a half-life originally reported as 0.3 seconds but later calculations reduced this to 0.15 seconds its atomic weight was estimated to be 260.

While awaiting confirmation of these experiments the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) gave the element a temporary name of unnilquadium which stood for the number 104 (un-nil-quad, 1-0-4) with the symbol Unq.

In 1969 another group of scientists working at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (now known as the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory), in Berkeley, California, USA also reported the production of element 104. This team under the leadership of Albert Ghiorso was unable to verify the Russian findings. They used ions of carbon-12 and carbon-13 to bombard targets of californium-248 and californium-249. They produced three different isotopes of the new element with atomic weights of 257, 258 and 259.

The American team suggested the name rutherfordium (after the New Zealand physicist Ernest R. Rutherford) along with the symbol Rf for element 104. This has become the IUPAC preferred name for the element. The true credit for the discovery of element 104 is still under debate.

Sixteen isotopes of rutherfordium have been produced to date. Rutherfordium-267 is the most stable of these isotopes with a half-life of 1.3 hours and it decays by spontaneous fission.

Very little of the element has ever been produced and at present even its bulk properties such as density, melting or boiling points have not been measured. From its position in the periodic table it should have similar properties to the element hafnium.

With its short half-life and being highly radioactive it is unlikely that any industrial usage for rutherfordium will ever be found.

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