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THE CHEMICAL CHARACTER OF THE Radio
The simple connection between the sequence of radioactive changes and the chemical character of the products. has effected an enormous simplification, not only in the theory, but also in the practice of radio-chemistry. The series extends over twelve places, two, namely those in the families of the halogens and the alkali metals, being entirely skipped. In the ten occupied places are forty-three distinct types of matter, but only ten chemical elements. Seven of these ten, thallium, lead, bismuth, emanation, radium, thorium, and uranium, can now in every respect be considered, both chemically and spectroscopically, thoroughly well known. These seven places accommodate all but nine of the known radio-elements, and these nine, the isotopes of polonium, actinium, and ekatantalum respectively, are the only members the chemistry and physics of which cannot be referred to well-known elements obtainable in sufficient quantity for ordinary chemical and spectroscopic examination.
Of these three, polonium, although the element of which at present the chemistry is best known, is likely to remain the most difficult to bring into line with the others, for, although a vast amount of exact information has been obtained as to its reactions, it would seem to remain hopeless ever to obtain it in anything but infinitesimal amount owing to its relatively very short period.
The chemistry of actinium has been enormously simplified by the discovery that mesothorium-2 is isotopic with it, for the latter may be used as an indicator to show in what way the actinium distributes itself after any chemical treatment. Owing
to its relatively small quantity as a branch product and to the fact that, itself, it gives no rays, the characteristic radioactivity of its products only making their appearance slowly after it has been separated, actinium has always been a difficult element to extract from the mineral and very easy to lose in chemical operations. There is now, however, another reason which will assist in the study of this element.
THE ORIGIN OF ACTINIUM. EKATANTALUM.
The generalisation has now led to the elucidation of its origin and the discovery of its direct parent. From its constant association with uranium minerals, and the relative activity therein of its products in comparison with the activity of those of radium, it was considered to be a branch product of the uranium series, only 8 per cent. of the atoms of uranium disintegrating passing through the actinium series and 92 per cent. through the radium series. Its definite location in the periodic table, by virtue of its isotopism with mesothorium-2, made it clear that its parent must either be in the radium or the ekatantalum place, the former if it is produced in a B-ray change and the latter if it is produced in an a-ray change.
The ekatantalum place was vacant when the generalisation was first made, but it was necessary
suppose that uranium-X, like mesothorium, comprised two successive products, uranium-X, and uranium-X2, both giving B-rays, and the latter occupying the vacant place in question. This prediction was confirmed within a few weeks of its being made by the discovery by Fajans and Göhring of uranium-X2, or brevium, a new member responsible for the more penetrating B-radiation given by uranium-X,
ORIGIN OF ACTINIUM
and having a period of only 1.65 minutes. The possibility that actinium was produced in a B-ray change from an isotope of radium was experimentally disproved, and there remained only the second alternative, which was rendered the more probable by the existence of a member, uranium-Y, discovered by Antonoff, isotopic with uranium-X1, and simultaneously produced with it from uranium in relative quantity such as is to be expected, if it were the first member of the actinium series. Uranium-Y, like uranium-X1, gives soft B-rays, and hence its unknown product must be the isotope of uranium-X2, and might also well prove to be the unknown direct parent of actinium in an a-ray change of long period.
During the year the missing element has been found in two independent investigations (Soddy and Cranston, Proc. Roy. Soc., 1918, [A], 94, 384 ; O. Hahn and L. Meitner, Physikal. Zeitsch., 1918, 19, 208). The problem as it presented itself to us was so to treat a uranium mineral as to separate an element, if present, which possessed the chemical character of the known but hopelessly short-lived uranium-X2, using the latter as an indicator in trying possible methods beforehand. The method adopted, distillation at an incipient red heat in a current of carbon tetrachloride vapour and air, was found to be very effective in volatilising uranium-X, from uranium-X1, and when applied to pitchblende it was found to give a product in which none of the known pre-emanation members of the disintegration series were present. Thus was obtained a preparation from which actinium was at first absent, but which, with the lapse of time, continuously generated actinium, as characterised beyond the possibility of doubt by means of its active deposit.
It should be mentioned that the exact point at
which the uranium series branches has not yet been definitely ascertained, as there is a choice of alternatives, at present experimentally indistinguishable. Uranium-Y may be either the product of uranium-I or of uranium-11, and the latter alternative, which is that shown in the figure, is taken for the present as likely to be on the whole the more probable. The point can only be settled by the determination of the atomic weight of ekatantalum or actinium.
Independently, Hahn and Meitner obtained the parent of actinium from the insoluble siliceous residues left after the treatment of pitchblende with nitric acid by adding tantalum, and then separating it and purifying it by chemical treatment. They showed that it gave a-rays of range 3.314 cm. of air at N.T.P., and, from this range, estimate its period to be from 10% to 2.10* years. There should therefore be sufficient of the element in uranium minerals to enable the spectrum, atomic weight, and chemical character of the pure substance to be determined in the same way as for radium. Its separation on a large scale will enable actinium itself to be grown in a pure state, analogously to the preparation of radiothorium from mesothorium, and so should allow the spectrum at least of actinium to be found.
With regard to the period of actinium, there is at present a real conflict of evidence, and so it is impossible to say whether our knowledge of actinium is ever likely to become as complete as that of radium, or to remain, like that of polonium, confined to what can be learned from infinitesimal quantities. Cranston and I, on certain assumptions, concluded from indirect evidence that the period of actinium was 5000 years, but Hahn and Meitner, on the other hand, state that they have obtained evidence confirming Mme. Curie's provisional estimate of the period as about thirty years, from the direct obser
ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LEAD
vation of the decay of the radiations of a sealed actinium preparation.
ATOMIC WEIGHT OF ISOTOPES.
It is clear that the periodic law connects, not primarily chemical character and atomic weight, but chemical character and atomic charge or atomic number, which alters its value by integers, not continuously, producing the step-by-step changes in chemical character which is at the basis of the analysis of matter into the chemical elements, or heterotopes. This atomic number is, however, the algebraic sum of positive and negative charges, so that the loss of the a-particle with its two positive charges and of two negative electrons as B-particles leaves its value unchanged and produces an isotope of the element having an atomic weight four units less than the original. Unique chemical character and unique spectrum reaction is no proof of homogeneity, and so we arrive at the conclusion that the chemical elements, so far considered homogeneous, may be mixtures of isotopes, possessing different atomic structure and stability, revealed when they undergo radioactive change, and in some cases also different atomic weight. This, although within the scope of the Daltonian analysis of matter to detect, nevertheless, until radioactive investigations revealed this possibility, remained overlooked. In two cases, that of the isotopes of lead on the one hand, and of ionium and thorium on the other, this difference of atomic weight in elements spectroscopically and chemically identical has now been established by direct determinations.
The figure (facing p. 134) shows that, so far as these changes have been followed, they all terminate in the place occupied by lead, and, if this is the real, as dis