|Oak Ridge—Charles D. Coryell, Jacob A. Marinsky, Lawrence E. Glendenin elements|
- Element 61 couldn’t be found in nature,
- but scientists working for the Manhattan Project
- had plenty of unnatural materials at hand.
- The purpose of the reactor at Oak Ridge
- was to irradiate uranium slugs to produce plutonium.
- A ton of uranium slugs from the reactor
- went to the chemical-separation building every three days.
- After separating the plutonium, scientists found
- they had created many other radioactive materials,
- including an element with an atomic weight of 61
- that Coryell’s wife suggested naming after Prometheus.
Atomic number 61
- Promethium-147 emits beta particles;
- it doesn’t emit alpha or gamma rays
- so it’s relatively safe,
- used in luminous paint,
- in betavoltaic devices for spacecraft and pacemakers,
- and for measuring the thickness of materials.
No mineral contains promethium
- Chemists in the 1920s
- wasted their time and reputation trying
- to isolate element 61 from rare-earth minerals.
- It wasn’t there.
- A gap in the table
- between neodymium and samarium
- might have suggested it would be difficult to isolate,
- but it wasn’t there.
Daring and danger
- He stole fire from Mount Olympus
- and gave it to mankind.
- So Zeus has him chained to a rock
- where an eagle eats his heart.