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Discovery of Promethium

In 1914, one year before he was killed in action during World War I, Henry Moseley, a brilliant 26-year-old British physicist whose work influenced the final order of elements in the Periodic Table, demonstrated that element 61 should exist between the rare earths neodymium and samarium. In 1941-42 American chemists tried to create element 61 but could not prove they had produced it.

In 1945, chemists Jacob Marinsky and Larry Glendenin, working at the Graphite Reactor under the leadership of Charles Coryell, produced element 61. Promethium - Pm 61They did it both by uranium fission and by bombarding neodymium with neutrons from fissioning uranium in the reactor. Working in the nearby hot laboratory and chemistry building, they made the first chemical identification of two radioisotopes of element 61 by using ion-exchange chromatography.

Marinsky and Glendenin announced their chemical proof of the existence of element 61 at the 1947 American Chemical Society meeting. In 1948 when they were working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they proposed the name "promethium" (Pm) for element 61 after Prometheus, the Titan in Greek mythology who stole fire from heaven for human benefit. The idea came from Coryell's wife Grace Mary. The name was accepted by the International Union of Chemistry in 1949.

Promethium is a radioactive beta-emitting metal not found in the earth's crust. It has been identified in the spectrum of a star in the Andromeda constellation.

Promethium-147 has been used in nuclear-powered batteries for instruments in guided missiles—one way to return fire to the heavens.

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