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What is berkelium used for?

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Quick Answer

Berkelium is used for basic research and experiments in nuclear physics. The element is so heavy and unstable that it does not occur in nature. Only minute amounts of berkelium have ever been synthesized, and it has no industrial or economic applications.

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Full Answer

Extremely small amounts of berkelium are produced in the United States at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is done by bombarding samples of curium with alpha particles for extended periods before purifying the berkelium from the resulting mass. Given the difficulty in producing the element, it cannot be used outside of nuclear laboratories.

When carefully prepared, however, berkelium can be used as the starting point for synthesizing still-heavier elements. In 2009, a sample of berkelium was made available to Russian physicists who bombarded it with atoms of calcium-48 for five months. This heavy bombardment eventually succeeded in synthesizing, for the first time, a small sample of element 117, which was provisionally named ununseptium.

Berkelium's most stable isotope has a half-life of 1,380 years. As a result, any quantities of the element that might occur naturally as a result of a supernova decay long before the element can be taken up by a planet. For this reason, it is not expected that a natural source of berkelium can ever be discovered.

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