Californium (pronEng|ˌkælɪˈforniəm) is a metallic chemical element with the symbol Cf and atomic number 98. A radioactive transuranic element, californium has very few uses. Uses include starting nuclear reactors (civilian and military); optimizing coal-fired power plants and concrete production facilities (via online analyzers); medical treatment of cancer; and oil exploration via down hole well logging. It was first produced by bombarding curium with alpha particles (helium ions).


Weighable amounts of californium make it possible to determine some of its properties using macroscopic quantities.

252Cf (2.645-year half-life) is a very strong neutron emitter and is thus extremely radioactive and harmful [cite web | url = | title = The NARAC Emergency Response Guide to Initial Airborne Hazard Estimates | author = Michael B. Dillon, Ronald L. Baskett, Kevin T. Foster, and Connee S. Foster | date = 2004-03-18 | id = UCRL:UCRL-TM-202990 | publisher = National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center] (one microgram spontaneously emits 170 million neutrons per minute). 249Cf is formed from the beta decay of 249Bk and most other californium isotopes are made by subjecting berkelium to intense neutron radiation in a nuclear reactor.

Californium has no biological role and only a few californium compounds have been made and studied. Included among these are californium oxide (Cf2O3), californium trichloride (CfCl3) and californium oxychloride (CfOCl). The only californium ion that is stable in aqueous solution is the californium(III) cation.



The element does have some specialist applications dealing with its radioactivity but otherwise is largely too difficult to produce to have widespread useful significance as a material. Some of its uses are:
*neutron startup source for some nuclear reactors, calibrating instrumentation
*treatment of certain cervical and brain cancers where other radiation therapy is ineffective
*radiography of aircraft to detect metal fatigue
*airport neutron-activation detectors of explosives
*portable metal detectors [cite web|url=|title=Will you be 'mine'? Physics key to detection|date=2000-10-25|publisher=Pacific Northwest National Laboratory|accessdate=2007-03-21]
*neutron moisture gauges used to find water and petroleum layers in oil wells
*portable neutron source in gold and silver prospecting for on-the-spot analysis

In October 2006 it was announced that on three occasions californium-249 atoms had been bombarded with calcium-48 ions to produce ununoctium (element 118), [cite web | last = Sanderson | first = Katherine | title = Heaviest element made - again | work = | publisher = Nature (journal) | date = 2006-10-17 | url = | accessdate = 2006-10-19 ] [cite web | author = Phil Schewe and Ben Stein | title = Elements 116 and 118 Are Discovered | work = Physics News Update | publisher = American Institute of Physics | date = 2006-10-17 | url = | accessdate = 2006-10-19 ] making this the heaviest element ever synthesized.


251Cf is famous for having a very small critical mass of 5 kg ( [] ), high lethality, and short period of toxic environmental irradiation relative to radioactive elements commonly used for radiation explosive weaponry, creating speculation about possible use in pocket nukes. However, the costs of such a bomb would be extremely high (around US $100 billion [$27,000,000 per gram x 5,000 grams = $135,000,000,000 ] ). Other weaponry uses, such as showering an area with californium, are not impossible but are seen as inhumane and are subject to inclement weather conditions and porous terrain considerations.

Nuclear fuel cycle

Californium is produced by neutron capture on berkelium-249. Three californium isotopes with significant halflives are produced, requiring a total of 12 to 14 neutron captures on uranium-238 without nuclear fission or alpha decay. Their neutron cross sections are:

Thus 250Cf and 251Cf will be transmuted fairly quickly, with the majority fissioning at mass 251, but with a large fraction surviving to become 252Cf; the 252Cf however will not be transmuted or destroyed quickly in a well-thermalized reactor.

252Cf has a relatively high rate of spontaneous fission. Although still much less likely than alpha decay, this makes californium a significant neutron radiation emitter. MOX fuel containing enough curium would likely contain enough californium after use to preclude manual handling of the spent fuel or its nuclear reprocessing products with a glove box that protects against alpha and beta radiation but not against gamma radiation and especially neutron radiation.


Californium was first synthesized at the University of California, Berkeley by researchers Stanley G. Thompson, Kenneth Street, Jr., Albert Ghiorso and Glenn T. Seaborg in 1950. It was the sixth transuranium element to be discovered and the team announced their discovery on March 17, 1950. It was named after the U.S. state of California and for the University of California, Berkeley, being that California is one of a few nicknames for the university.

To produce element 98, the team bombarded a microgram-sized target of 242Cm with 35 MeV alpha particles in the 5-foot (1.52 m) Berkeley cyclotron, which produced atoms of 245Cf (half-life 44 minutes) and a free neutron.

Due to its $27 million per gram price tag, only 8 grams of 252Cf have been made in the western world since its discovery by Seaborg in 1950.Fact|date=March 2007 Plutonium supplied by the United Kingdom to the U.S. under the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement was used for californium production. [cite web|url=|title=Plutonium and Aldermaston - an historical account|publisher=UK Ministry of Defence|date=2001-09-04|accessdate=2007-03-15]


Twenty radioisotopes of californium have been characterized, the most stable being 251Cf with a half-life of 898 years, 249Cf with a half-life of 351 years, and 250Cf with a half-life of 13 years. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 2.7 years, and the majority of these have half-lives shorter than 20 minutes. The isotopes of californium range in atomic weight from 237.062 u (237Cf) to 256.093 u (256Cf).

Natural occurrence

Although californium does not occur naturally on Earth, the element and its decay products occur elsewhere in the universe. Their electromagnetic emissions are regularly observed in the spectra of supernovae.fact|date=August 2008



*"Guide to the Elements - Revised Edition", Albert Stwertka, (Oxford University Press; 1998) ISBN 0-19-508083-1

External links

* [ - Californium]
* [ - Californium]
* [ Los Alamos National Laboratory - Californium]
* [ It's Elemental - Californium]
* [,radioactive Hazardous Substances Databank – Californium, Radioactive]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Californium — Berkélium ← Californium → Einsteinium Dy …   Wikipédia en Français

  • CALIFORNIUM — Le californium, élément chimique artificiel de symbole Cf, a été synthétisé pour la première fois en 1950. Son numéro atomique 98 le situe dans la classification périodique parmi les éléments transuraniens, après le curium et le berkélium.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • californium — ☆ californium [kal΄ə fôr′nē əm ] n. [ModL < CALIFORNIA + IUM: so named (1950) by the discoverers, SEABORG Glenn T(heodore) and associates, at the University of California] a radioactive, metallic chemical element, one of the actinides,… …   English World dictionary

  • californium — Symbol: Cf Atomic number: 98 Atomic weight: (249) Radioactive metallic transuranic element. Belongs to actinoid series. Cf 251 has a half life of about 700 years. Nine isotopes are known. Cf 252 is an intense neutron source, which makes it an… …   Elements of periodic system

  • Californium — Eigenschaften …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • californium — /kal euh fawr nee euhm/, n. Chem. a transuranic element. Symbol: Cf; at. no.: 98. [1945 50; named after the University of CALIFORNIA where it was discovered; see IUM] * * * ▪ chemical element  (Cf),    synthetic chemical element of the actinoid… …   Universalium

  • Californium — kalifornis statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. californium vok. Californium, n; Kalifornium, n rus. калифорний, m pranc. californium, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • californium — kalifornis statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. californium vok. Californium, n; Kalifornium, n rus. калифорний, m pranc. californium, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • Californium — Ca|li|fọr|ni|um 〈n.; s; unz.; chem. 〉 künstlich hergestelltes radioaktives chem. Element; oV Kalifornium [nach Kalifornien, Bundesstaat der USA] * * * Ca|li|fọr|ni|um [nach dem amer. Bundesstaat California; ↑ ium (1)], das; s; Symbol: Cf: nur… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • californium — kalifornis statusas T sritis chemija apibrėžtis Cheminis elementas. simbolis( iai) Cf atitikmenys: lot. californium angl. californium rus. калифорний …   Chemijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

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