Scientists theorize properties of fleeting astatine

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Posted September 11, 2013
Astatine is among the world’s rarest elements – with a maximum half-life of just eight hours, found in tiny amounts in natural radioactive decay chains, but also produced by bombarding bismuth with energetic atomic particles. The late Dale Corson, Cornell’s eighth president, was one of the discoverers of astatine, synthesizing it for the first time with Kenneth McKenzie and Emilio Segre in 1940.
Scientists theorize properties of fleeting astatine
Astatine (element No. 85) is among the world’s rarest elements. A new study theorizes how the element would look and behave were scientists able to observe it in its condensed form. Credit: iStockphoto

Yet astatine (element No. 85) also leaves a “curious void” in the Periodic Table of the Elements: Its properties in solid or liquid, or condensed form, are simply unknown, reports a Cornell team in a study by former postdoctoral associate Andreas Hermann that includes physicist Neil Ashcroft and chemist Roald Hoffmann. The new study theorizes how astatine would look and behave were scientists able to make enough of it to touch and observe (although it would be extremely radioactive).

Ashcroft, the Horace White Professor of Physics Emeritus; Hoffmann, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor in Humane Letters Emeritus and 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry; and Hermann, now at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions, describe theoretical, condensed astatine in a paper accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters. Their paper was spurred by Corson’s groundbreaking discovery.

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