Element 96 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is curium. Curium’s radioactivity limits its uses – but also enables its use as a source of alpha particles in space probe spectrometers.
Curium is named after both Pierre and Marie Curie, who pioneered investigations into and understanding of radioactivity. Like americium, it was discovered during World War II, and so its discovery was only announced its conclusion. It’s one of the most radioactive elements in the periodic table – so much so that it glows purple in the dark.
Curium emits alpha radiation, which means that it can be used as an alpha particle source. It has been put to this use in X-ray spectrometers in a number of space probes, including in the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Curium, like americium, also has the potential to be used to power satellites and probes. However, its rarity and cost make any future commercial use for this purpose unlikely.
Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.