Americium ( /ˌæməˈrɪsiəm/ AM-ə-RIS-ee-əm) is a transuranic radioactive chemical element that has the symbol Am and atomic number 95. This transuranic element of the actinide series is located in the periodic table below the lanthanide element europium, and thus by analogy was named after another continent, America.
Americium was first produced in 1944 by the group of Glenn T. Seaborg at the University of California, Berkeley. Although it is the third element in the transuranic series, it was discovered fourth, after the heavier curium. The discovery was kept secret and only released to the public in November 1945. Most americium is produced by bombarding uranium or plutonium with neutrons in nuclear reactors – one tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains about 100 grams of americium. It is widely used in commercial ionization chamber smoke detectors, as well as in neutron sources and industrial gauges. Several unusual applications, such as a nuclear battery or fuel for space ships with nuclear propulsion, have been proposed for the isotope 242mAm, but they are as yet hindered by the scarcity and high price of this nuclear isomer.
Americium is a relatively soft radioactive metal with silvery appearance. Its most common isotopes are 241Am and 243Am. In chemical compounds, they usually assume the oxidation state +3, especially in solutions. Several other oxidation states are known, which range from +2 to +7 and can be identified by their characteristic optical absorption spectra. The crystal lattice of solid americium and its compounds contains intrinsic defects, which are induced by self-irradiation with alpha particles and accumulate with time; this results in a drift of some material properties.