High pressure can alter heavy element chemistry, new study reveals

A new study reports that the behavior of one of the heaviest known element can be manipulated to a greater degree using high pressure.

An international team of researchers, led by Professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt from the University of Florida and collaborators at the University of Buffalo and Aachen University, has demonstrated that the behavior of valence electrons of the heaviest known elements can be altered by high pressure. Valence electrons are the electrons in the outer shell of an atom, which it uses in bonding. Their research is published in the journal Nature.

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In addition to Albrecht-Schmitt, this study was led by chemistry professors Jochen Autschbach and Eva Zurek from University at Buffalo, as well as Manfred Speldrich, a researcher at Aachen University in Germany.

The researchers used the heavy element “curium” for their study. Curium is a radioactive element named after Marie Curie and Pierre Curie for their significant contribution to radioactivity research. It has an atomic number 96 and symbol “Cm” and usually exhibits valence +3 and valence +4 in compounds.

The researchers subjected a sample of curium (3+) ion to high pressure by squeezing between two diamonds along with sulfur-organic and ammonium ions. The high pressure caused the curium to participate in covalent bonding with sulfur by shortening the distance between the covalence electrons and the electrons of the surrounding lighter element. This behavior was not anticipated as it is generally resistant to any alteration to its properties.

Curium crystals with an orange glow, which the researchers used to monitor the changes in chemistry as they applied pressure. Credit: Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt / Nature

The team would continue their experiment with other heavier elements like californium and einsteinium

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Generally, the chemistry of heavier elements in the periodic table is a mystery to scientists as it is difficult to control their chemistry. This experiment proves that scientists can now have greater control over their chemistry. This research also opens the door to additional strategies in designing resilient materials for the long term storage of radioactive materials and controlling chemical separation in nuclear recycling.

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Source: Phys.org

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