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Californium is named after the state and University of California. Californium is named after the state and University of California.


Atomic Number: 98 Atomic Radius: 245 pm (Van der Waals)
Atomic Symbol: Cf Melting Point: 900 °C
Atomic Weight: 251 Boiling Point: 1470 °C
Electron Configuration: [Rn]7s25f10 Oxidation States: 2, 3, 4


Californium, the sixth transuranium element to be discovered, was produced by Thompson, Street, Ghioirso, and Seaborg in 1950 by bombarding microgram quantities of 242Cm with 35 MeV helium ions in the Berkeley 60-inch cyclotronproducing 244Cf. Since the lanthanide homologue of californium (dysprosium) has a stable trivalent state in aqueous solution it was anticipated that californium would exhibit a stable trivalent state as well. This accurate prediction allowed for the successful chromatographic separation of californium from other actinides and for its unequivocal identification.


Twenty isotopes ranging in atomic mass from 237 to 256 have been reported for californium however the existence of the isotopes with mass of 237 and 238 has not yet been confirmed. The isotope 249Cf results from the beta decay of 249Bk while the heavier isotopes are produced by intense neutron irradiation by nuclear reactors or in thermonuclear explosions. The existence of the isotopes 249Cf, 250Cf, 251Cf, and 252Cf makes it feasible to isolate californium in weighable amounts so that its physicochemical properties can be investigated with macroscopic quantities. The first well-defined structure of a californium compound was the oxychloride by Cunningham and Wallmann a decade after discovery of the element. Microgram quantities of californium have been produced in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee and in Dimitrovgrad high-flux reactors in Russia. Californium-252 is a very strong neutron emitter. One microgram releases 170 million neutrons per minute, which presents biological hazards. Cf-252 also decays by energetic alpha emission (half-life 2.65 years, 6.1 MeV). Proper safeguards should be used when handling californium isotopes.


Californium is the second half of the actinide series where its f electrons are further removed or shielded from the valence electrons that those of the lighter actinides. Thus californium resembles the behavior of the lanthanide elements exhibiting divalent, trivalent, and tetravalent oxidation states in solid-state compounds. In solution, the trivalent state is the most stable however the divalent, tetravalent and a possible pentavalent state have been reported. The existence of Cf(V) is questionable.

Californium metal is fairly reactive. On standing in air or moisture, small pieces or foils of Cf metal quickly form an oxide but not in a violent reaction. Two methods have been successful for preparation of Cf metal: reduction of californium trifluoride with lithium metal at elevated temperature and using thorium or lanthanum metal to reduce californium oxide (R. G. Haire, 1982). The largest amount of metal prepared at one time was about 10 milligrams. The metal was eventually determined to be trivalent with a room-temperature double hexagonal close-packed structure. A face centered cubic structure has also been observed for californium metal at high temperature.

Some alloys and numerous solid-state compounds have been prepared with californium in spite of the fact that only small amounts of the element are available at any one time. Californium compounds include oxides, halides, oxyhalides, pnictides, chacogenides hydrides, tellurides, oxysulfate and oxysulfide to name a few. Some organo-californium coumpounds have also been prepared.

Because californium is a very efficient source of neutrons, many new uses are expected for it. It has already found use in neutron moisture gauges and in well-logging (the determination of water and oil-bearing layers). It is also being used as a portable neutron source for discovery of metals such as gold or silver by on-the-spot activation analysis. 252Cf is now being offered for sale by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at a cost of $10/mg. As of May, 1975, more than 63 mg have been produced and sold. It has been suggested that californium may be produced in certain stellar explosions, called supernovae, for the radioactive decay of 254Cf (55-day half-life) agrees with the characteristics of the light curves of such explosions observed through telescopes. This suggestion, however, is questioned.

Further reading: Richard G. Haire (2006) Chapter 11, "The Chemistry of the Actinide and Transactinide Element," Third Edition, L. R. Morss, J. Fuger, and N. M. Edelstein, Eds, Springer Publishers.

This element reviewed and Updated by Dr. David Hobart, 2011

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