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What is Lawrencium?

Lawrencium is a synthetic, radioactive element with the atomic number 103. Named in honor of physicist Ernest Lawrence, it's a member of the actinide series, known for its instability and rarity. Created in particle accelerators, lawrencium's fleeting existence offers a glimpse into the complex architecture of the periodic table. How does lawrencium's elusive nature challenge our understanding of chemistry?
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Lawrencium is an element with atomic symbol Lr, atomic number 103 and atomic weight of 262. It was discovered at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory — now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley by Albert Ghiorso, Almon E. Larsh, Robert M. Latimer, and Torbjørn Sikkeland on Valentine’s Day 1961. It was named for Ernest O. Lawrence, who invented the cyclotron. Originally designated to be represented by the atomic symbol Lw, the symbol was later changed to Lr.

Lawrencium is the last of the transuranic actinides or actinoids, as well as the last of the group to be discovered, ending a 173 year process. It all began when naturally occurring uranium was discovered by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, a German chemist, in 1789. But the development of this area lagged a bit until a spate of discoveries of the transuranic actinoids, all of which were discovered synthetically, began with Neptunium in 1940.

Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley. Lawrencium was discovered at UC Berkeley.
Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley. Lawrencium was discovered at UC Berkeley.

Lawrencium was first produced by bombarding californium with ions of boron. The small quantities of lawrencium that have up till now been created combined with lawrencium’s very short half-life makes it difficult to work with and describe. Its color, for example, is a matter of conjecture, as is its melting point.

The first isolate had a half-life of 8 seconds. Twelve isotopes have so far been synthesized — Lawrencium(Lawrencium-252, -254, -255, -256, -257, -258, -259, -260, -261, -262 and -266), along with one nuclear isomer, -253. The isotope with the longest half-life discovered to date is Lawrencium-266, with a half-life reported 11 hours. Lawrencium-262 was first discovered in 2014.

Some Lawrencium isotopes have been observed to be produced by the decay of heavier elements, such as bohrium, dubnium, meitnerium, and ununtrium.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to AllTheScience about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to AllTheScience about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

anon944846

I need to know what elements commonly combine or react with lawrencium.

anon78494

Is it also used for anything humans can use, or is it just practically a useless element?

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    • Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley. Lawrencium was discovered at UC Berkeley.
      By: Eric BVD
      Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley. Lawrencium was discovered at UC Berkeley.