Fermium, a radioactive rare earth metal, was first isolated and identified by scientists in 1953 at University of California, Berkeley.
Albert Ghiorso, one of the original members of Glenn Seaborg’s Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory team in 1942, has worked continuously at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 1946 as a nuclear scientist. He is codiscoverer of 11 elements, 96 through 106, which include fermium. The following passage is excerpted from his essay on einsteinium and fermium.
As a codiscoverer of all of the elements from 96 to 106 and of the earliest work on element 110, I can attest to the fact that all of that research was exciting: It was an exploration into the unknown that required the development of new techniques that eventually developed sensitivities for identifying one atom at a time. But the discovery of elements 99 and 100 was something quite different. It was completely unexpected, a most extraordinary event that mimicked the r-process by which the heaviest elements were put on our Earth in the first place.
It occurred in 1952, when the first thermonuclear device in history was exploded in the South Pacific by Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. This was a highly secret event, and initially, the UC Radiation Laboratory was not involved in any way. In fact, our first news that something very unusual had happened came when Glenn T. Seaborg received from Washington, D.C., a telegram, which said that the heretofore unknown isotope of plutonium with mass 244 had been found in a recent test and therefore its existence was now classified secret even if it were to be produced by any other nonsecret means!
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society