Polonium is a very rare and radioactive element which is found naturally in uranium ore. Polonium is sometimes considered to be a metal, but is also sometimes classified a metalloid (an element with features of both metal and non-metal) because of its position on the periodic table. It is a chemical element with the atomic number 84 and the chemical symbol Po. There are 33 isotopes of polonium and polonium-210 has the longest half-life of any of the naturally occurring isotopes at 138.376 days. This means that it is a very rare element in nature. Early extraction techniques yielded just 9 mg of the element from 37 metric tons of residue from radium production! Today it is obtained by irradiating bismuth, which is far more reliable. Let’s find out who discovered this rare element.
Who discovered polonium?
Polonium was discovered by, the husband and wife team, Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. Marie named the element after Poland, which was her country of origin. The element was discovered during investigations into uraninite (a type of uranium ore also called pitchblende). They discovered that the ore was more radioactive after removing the uranium and thorium and they realized that at least one other radioactive element was present. They isolated the polonium in July 1898 and a few months later went on to discover radium.
Did you know?
Polonium is highly radioactive and is considered to be highly dangerous to humans. Polonium-210 is more than 200,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide!
Polonium was crucial to the success of the implosion type of nuclear weapons (the type of bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945) and this meant that much of the information surrounding this element was classified until after World War II.