The 14th International Conference on

Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

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Strictly speaking, both actinium and lawrencium have been labeled as group 3 elements, but both elements are often included in any general discussion of the chemistry of the actinide elements. Actinium is the more often omitted of the two, because its placement as a group 3 element is somewhat more common in texts and for semantic reasons: since "actinide" means "like actinium", it has been argued that actinium cannot logically be an actinide, but IUPAC acknowledges its inclusion based on common usage.

All actinides are radioactive and release energy upon radioactive decay; naturally occurring uranium and thorium, and synthetically produced plutonium are the most abundant actinides on Earth. These are used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. Uranium and thorium also have diverse current or historical uses, and americium is used in the ionization chambers of most modern smoke detectors.

The existence of transuranium elements was suggested by Enrico Fermi based on his experiments in 1934. However, even though four actinides were known by that time, it was not yet understood that they formed a family similar to lanthanides. The prevailing view that dominated early research into transuranics was that they were regular elements in the 7th period, with thorium, protactinium and uranium corresponding to 6th-period hafnium, tantalum and tungsten, respectively. Synthesis of transuranics gradually undermined this point of view. By 1944 an observation that curium failed to exhibit oxidation states above 4 (whereas its supposed 6th period homolog, platinum, can reach oxidation state of 6) prompted Glenn Seaborg to formulate a so-called "actinide hypothesis". Studies of known actinides and discoveries of further transuranic elements provided more data in support of this point of view, but the phrase "actinide hypothesis" (the implication being that a "hypothesis" is something that has not been decisively proven) remained in active use by scientists through the late 1950s.

Chemically, actinium is similar to lanthanum, which is explained by their similar ionic radii and electronic structure. Like lanthanum, actinium almost always has an oxidation state of +3 in compounds, but it is less reactive and has more pronounced basic properties. Among other trivalent actinides Ac3+ is least acidic, i.e. has the weakest tendency to hydrolyze in aqueous solutions.

Neptunium has valence states from 3 to 7, which can be simultaneously observed in solutions. The most stable state in solution is +5, but the valence +4 is preferred in solid neptunium compounds. Neptunium metal is very reactive. Ions of neptunium are prone to hydrolysis and formation of coordination compounds.

The largest chemical diversity among actinides is observed in americium, which can have valence between 2 and 6. Divalent americium is obtained only in dry compounds and non-aqueous solutions (acetonitrile). Oxidation states +3, +5 and +6 are typical for aqueous solutions, but also in the solid state. Tetravalent americium forms stable solid compounds (dioxide, fluoride and hydroxide) as well as complexes in aqueous solutions. It was reported that in alkaline solution americium can be oxidized to the heptavalent state, but these data proved erroneous. The most stable valence of americium is 3 in the aqueous solutions and 3 or 4 in solid compounds.

While actinides have some established daily-life applications, such as in smoke detectors (americium) and gas mantles (thorium), they are mostly used in nuclear weapons and use as a fuel in nuclear reactors. The last two areas exploit the property of actinides to release enormous energy in nuclear reactions, which under certain conditions may become self-sustaining chain reaction.

Using actinides in nuclear fuel, sealed radioactive sources or advanced materials such as self-glowing crystals has many potential benefits. However, a serious concern is the extremely high radiotoxicity of actinides and their migration in the environment. Use of chemically unstable forms of actinides in MOX and sealed radioactive sources is not appropriate by modern safety standards. There is a challenge to develop stable and durable actinide-bearing materials, which provide safe storage, use and final disposal. A key need is application of actinide solid solutions in durable crystalline host phases.


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