Neptunium

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The first report on the discovery of neptunium was in 1940 by McMillan and Abelson (1940), although McMillan did the preliminary work in 1939 and published his findings (McMillan, 1939). He did not claim that a new element had been discovered until confirmatory measurements had been undertaken in the following year. The production of neptunium was accomplished by placing a layer of uranium trioxide on paper with several aluminum or paper foils and then exposing this to neutrons from a cyclotron. Examination of the uranium paper sample containing the non-recoiling fraction displayed that two new radioactive components had been created. One component displayed a 23 min half-life, later identified as U-239, while the second exhibited a 2.3 day half-life. Both components decayed via b particle emission. Preliminary chemical analysis was performed to determine the behavior of the 2.3 day component and resulted in the contradictory assignment of this component as that exhibiting an atomic number of 93, but not being transuranic in nature (Segrè, 1939). Segrè noted in his paper that his conclusions were contradictory. However, the following quotation is from his paper, ‘‘The necessary conclusion seems to be that the 23 minute uranium decays into a very long-lived 93 and that transuranic elements have not yet been observed.” The primary stumbling block to the proper assignment of the material as transuranic in nature was the lack of observation of any alpha decay activity that would emanate from the daughter product of the beta decay of this new material with an atomic number 93. It was this work by Segrè (1939) that led McMillan and Abelson to revisit the chemical analysis and determine its properties in greater depth.