Illustration of Fermium

1952 Fermium

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Berkeley, Argonne, Los AlamosAlbert Ghiorso and co-workers at Berkeley, Argonne, and Los Alamos elements Illustration of Fermium


After identifying elemement 99, Albert Ghiorso and his co-workers turned their attention to the cause of an even higher-energy alpha emission from materials from the fallout of Ivy Mike on Enewetak Atoll. The teams at the Berkeley and Argonne labs performed ion-exchange elution separations to show that the element with atomic number 100 had been created.

Atomic number 100

Einsteinium and fermium are intensely radioactive and toxic although we are not likely to encounter them in everyday life. They are produced in laboratories and by nuclear reactors and explosions, and they decay within a few months into lighter but equally harmful elements: californium berkelium curium americium plutonium neptunium The tests at Enewetak and Bikini required the evacuation of the people who had lived there. The radioactive fallout from the tests still render the islands of the atolls unsafe for habitation.


The detonation on Enewetak Atoll on 1 November 1952 was the first successful test of a hydrogen bomb. Discovery of einsteinium and fermium was kept secret because of cold-war tensions until 1955. Knowledge is power, so secrecy, like power, corrupts.

The Soviets efforts to build a hydrogen bomb began with the design by Andrei Sakharov and Vitaly Ginzburg in 1949. Sahkarov later became a dissident and activist for disarmament, peace, and human rights.

Enrico Fermi wrote the following about the hydrogen bomb on 6 May 1954:

Such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide. It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground which gives a human being a certain individuality and dignity even if he happens to be a resident of an enemy country. . . . The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.

Albert Einstein wrote on 22 January 1947:

Through the release of atomic energy, our generation has brought into the world the most revolutionary force since prehistoric man’s discovery of fire.
This basic force of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world. We scientists recognise our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of atomic energy and its implication for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope - we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death.

See also in The book of science:

Readings in wikipedia:

Other readings:

  • Fermium,” Elementymology & Elements Multidict, by Peter van der Krogt