Facts About Polonium
Polonium
Credit: Andrei Marincas | Shutterstock

Atomic Number: 84
Atomic Symbol: Po
Atomic Weight: 209
Melting Point: 254 F (489.2 C)
Boiling Point: 962 F (1,763.6 C)

Word origin: Polonium is named after the country of Poland, the native home of chemist Marie Curie.

Discovery: Marie Curie discovered polonium, also called radium F, in 1898.

Properties of polonium

There are 25 known isotopes of polonium, with atomic masses ranging from 194 to 218. Polonium-210 is the easiest to obtain. This is a highly volatile, low-melting, radioactive metal. Unless kept in a sealed container, about half a sample of polonium will evaporate within three days. The silvery-gray element dissolves in dilute acids, but it is only slightly soluble in alkalis. [See Periodic Table of the Elements]

Sources of polonium

Polonium is extremely rare in its natural state. Scientists are able to extract the element by bombarding natural bismuth with neutrons and obtaining the parent of polonium. By using high neutron fluxes of nuclear reactors, very small amounts of polonium can be obtained.

Uses of polonium

Polonium has few commercial applications because of its radioactive nature. The element has been used in devices to eliminate static charge for textiles and on brushes to remove dust on photographic film.

Polonium is also used as a lightweight heat source for thermoelectric power in space satellites because a small amount of the element can release a large amount of energy.

When handling, polonium is usually carefully sealed and under strict control.

(Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)