Instructables

Radioactive Americium 241

I have 4.4 µCi of Americium 241. Anything fun i can do with it? can i generate light or electricity or make it do something?

richgrise1 year ago
If you had a geiger counter sensor, you could electronically capture the random events and use them to generate true random numbers.
Kiteman6 years ago
I wouldn't hang on to it.

As an alpha emitter, it would be extremely unwise to risk getting it within your skin, as alpha particles cause far more damage than beta or gamma radiation.

Remember the Russian killed by radioactive poison? It was a tiny amount of an alpha emitter.
Yikes.

Did you see what he used to do as a kid?

That is scary.
Why, oh WHY did I ever drop out of the Boy Scouts??!!!
Why, oh WHY did I never join?
I thought they'd do dangerous and cool stuff. I guess I was in the wrong troop. ;-(
They never said if he became an eagle scout or not?
I don't think they said. He could be a real poster-boy for scouting! "Kids, Work long and hard, be prepared and you could be like this meth-head... Uh, I mean Nuclear-Hobbyist". On my honor, I will do my best, to not NUKE my neighborhood.
Skin wounds, teeth falling out, etc go both hand in hand with meth use and radiation exposure.... If you look at some of the old video footage of the Manhattan project scientists several of them are grossly disfigured from radiation exposure, and several died from doing things like "licking the dragons tail" (( they did later explode that "Demon Core" but it managed to kill two people when it went critical and super critical before that and it caused burning, skin peeling, and other miserable rad sickness symptoms ))
..."licking the dragons tail"...

I just googled that phrase, and came up with one hit - your post.

What does it actually mean?
I know this is old, but for future reference he meant to write "TICKLING the dragon's tail". Search for "Harry K. Daghlian, Jr.".
OK, thanks.
I know. I was just being difficult. On a side note, I live near one of the worst (if not THE worst) accident sites from the Cold War. In 1965 a silo caught fire and 53 men were killed. That's like a mile from the house. It's a deadend road where I taught my kids to drive.
Ouch one welding rod in the wrong place. Thats got to suck ... It's strange to see how some thing so small and normally harmless can lead to the deaths of some many ......
Yep. I'm just glad it didn't "go nuclear". It's way out in the sticks, but still would've wiped out tens of thousands with radiation. Now there's a little plaque that honors the dead, but other than that, you'd never know it was there. I know the people that live (and raise cows) on that property.
There are some shady people involved in Boy Scouts. Its a nice role model for today's youth when your council was investigated for fraud by the government. (true story)
I hate that... My grandfather was involved in scouting. I was too, for like 6 months, but the whole thing seemed to have lost it's value. It's a tradition I really respect, but they need to SERIOUSLY start screening the scoutmasters!
They do background checks but only to check for sex offenders.
He did make the rank of eagle scout eventually, and the super-fund clean up cost was only $60,000 USD... He even got a job in the navy working on a nuclear powered ship, they how ever wouldn't even allow him to tour one of the eight nuclear reactors on board (( Not even a little peek through the door crack )) he's probably exceeded his life time dose of radioactivity though his own ignorance, and an apparent lack of safely handling / storing radioactive materials......
that eagle never landed..... reference to a book written in 1975 by the name, The Eagle Has Landed (film in 1976)
Believes he "only" took five years off his life, huh? There's quite a lot I would do for five extra...
Nice, an average person could probably do the same thing, since there is SOO much information about this subject on the internet
gmjhowe Kiteman6 years ago
erm, i thort it was gamma? ( i could be wrong)
Kiteman gmjhowe6 years ago
Gamma and alpha, apparently - the gamma's not ionising radiation, though, and far less dangerous.
lemonie Kiteman5 years ago
I realise this is a bit late, but gamma radiation is ionising. It may penetrate further before causing ionisation, but it does. How dangerous it is depends upon the intensity. For example Cobalt-60 sources are used to sterilise various things - potentially totally lethal.
Like noise can damage your ears: it's a question of how loud?

L
gmjhowe Kiteman6 years ago
ah ok, well i still told him to get rid of it!
LinuxH4x0r (author)  gmjhowe6 years ago
gamma is safer?
I was going to write a long reply for you and Kiteman. Instead, please see my topic in the Physics forum.
Alpha radiation is deadly but it is weak and can be stopped very easily. It cannot penetrate skin but if it gets into your body it can kill you.
That was kind of my point - your skin will stop it, but if you swallow it, breath it in or get it under your skin any other way, then it's Goodnight, Vienna!
Fingers those can be cut off, Americium 241 likes to concentrate in your bones and liver try losing the latter to cancer and see how long you live....
It looks more like Mr.Hahn is suffering from Meth Face than from radiation poisoning.
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Tool Using Animal6 years ago
haha, I wouldn'y be surprised if thats what really happened
Radiation sickness can seriously reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, leading to slow-to-heal skin lesions.

Or he could have been beaten up with a cheese grater?
I dunno, it could be radiation, but it does look like he's a meth user.

http://www.hartfordprojectcare.com/topic4.aspx
Also worth noting that the substance he was killed by decayed to lead, so he also got poisoned by that.
Nah, he was dead long before he got enough lead in his system to be dangerous.
Sandisk1duo6 years ago
I have about 2 pieces of indium, each the size of a grain of rice, it's not radioactive or poisonous, right?
Here's the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for indium metal. It is a lung irritant and has toxicological effects on the liver and kidneys. It may also cause developmental damage in children.

For your reference, always look up the MSDS (just use Google with "MSDS <whatever>") for a new chemcial if you're not familiar with it. They tend to be overly conservative about personal protective gear, but the quantitative data (LD50, flammability, etc.) will be accurate.

The tox effects are primarily from ingested or inhaled dust, or subcutaneous exposure. If you have solid pieces, keep them that way.

Are you an element collector?
> They tend to be overly conservative . I used to work at a hazmat incinerator and it was always fun to watch the newbies read their first real MSDS. "I gotta work around this stuff?!?!? It'll kill ya!" Then we'd show them the MSDSs for some household chemicals.
My favorite? Water, followed closely by Air. And just to round things off, Earth; all of them contain Fire already.
ROFL!!!
That's pretty funny!
those are classic.. I can't wait to put in a request at work for the MSDS on air and water just to see the look on the safety guys face, and I though the request I made last month for the MSDS on liquid paper and fluorescent lights was ignorant ..... now I wonder if they have one for coffee and creamer to (( ok the safety guy is not the most pleasant guy at work ))
Here's an amusing one for coffee.
Wow! That made me think two things: 1) Man, I hate HazMat courses and ops! 2)I could really go for an Irish coffee right about now!
element collector? no i just happen to have some indium
well 95 % of Indium is radioactive, its a very very weak Beta emitter with a half life of about 4 times longer then the planet earth has existed so it's pretty safe... And for the most part it is not toxic and it's worth about $1000 / Kg and the cost is only going to go up with more and more LCD's being produced..... (it's used to make the transparent conductors on the glass)
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Big Bwana6 years ago
any way to get it out of lcds? 1000 a kilo!
Jaycub5 years ago
Where did you get it, surplus fire alarms? (I would like to get some too)
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Jaycub5 years ago
Yes, an old smoke detector
About how big is the piece that you can get out of a smoke detector?
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Jaycub5 years ago
less than a small marble. Even less in newer ones
Jaycub5 years ago
You could make electricity. The alpha particles emitted during it's decay give the surrounding materials a positive electrostatic charge and leave the Americium with a negative charge.
DJ Radio5 years ago
can I haz it?
LinuxH4x0r (author)  DJ Radio5 years ago
only if you eat it :P jk, don't try this at home kids!
this would have gone a lot better if my username hadnt been changed.
KentsOkay6 years ago
Make something great...

Dirty bomb?
only if you have lots of rats and don't mind your house being unlivable for a bit :-)
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Goodhart6 years ago
that could be argued *grumbles*
I wouldn't call that "great".
true..
That would be pretty useless with Americum.
gmjhowe6 years ago
I suggest making a nice smoke detector!
whatsisface6 years ago
I don't think there's much you can do with it. Maybe make a smoke alarm?
I think that's probably where he got it from. Cloud chamber dry ice, denatured alcohol, fishtank, black paper and a strong light, approximately.
LinuxH4x0r (author)  Tool Using Animal6 years ago
How does that work? what would the AM do?
The Am-241 (not 421; you might consider editing the title of this topic :-) emits alpha particles, which are a form of very heavy radiation (technically, they are helium nuclei). You don't technically need the alpha emitter -- you can also just wait for cosmic rays to pass through the chamber, but the rate is pretty low.

When an alpha passes through the alcohol vapor it will occasionally (every few hundred microns of travel) ionize one of the molecules. That ion will then become the center of a small bubble of condensed alcohol. So what you end up with a a little string of bubbles along the trajectory the alpha followed through the chamber.

They won't just float in space, unfortunately, with the temperature gradient from the dry ice, plus gravity, the vapor is constantly flowing. You'll see the trajectory form, and then the whole thing will appear to "drift" down to the bottom of the chamber where the alcohol bath is.

If you are really ambitious, after making the chamber, you can put a couple of large magnets on either side, or make yourself a pair of Helmholtz coils (look it up on Wikipedia). That will put an approximately straight B field through the chamber, and you should see the alpha tracks curve. They are charged particles, so the qv x B gives you a central force and the particles bend.
LinuxH4x0r (author)  kelseymh6 years ago
Thanks! Its nice to have a LHC physicist helping! Any other ideas for it? How would you make one without dry ice?
It's possible to make a water-cooled chamber using ethylene glycol as the working medium, but the two sites supposedly with documentation both fail to access. I'm not sure I'd call myself an "LHC physicist" just yet. My whole career has been at e+/e- collider experiments, from 4 GeV (BES I, in Beijing) up to 90 GeV (SLD, at SLAC). The event structure, rates, and backgrounds in proton machines (like Fermilab's Tevatron and the LHC) are completely different, and I'm having to learn a lot of new stuff.
westfw kelseymh6 years ago
Would you care to weigh in on the whole "radioactive boy scout" episode? I've never been a nuclear engineer, but I've always felt that it wasn't near possible to achieve the level of danger implied by the story, even with hundreds of smoke detectors, thorium mantels, and radium paint dials. The whole mess smacks of attempts to justify official over-reaction in the disposal department plus back-handed glorification of the teen involved.
(most glaringly; while you can produce more radioactive elements (shorter halflife) from less radioactive elements, you can only do so at the rate of your "bombardment source" (and practically, much less), so there ought to be some sort of conservation effect that prevents you from winding up with stuff "much more radioactive than you started with.")
kelseymh westfw6 years ago
Mmmmm....I'm not a nuclear engineer; most of that story sounds wildly implausible ("bought thousands of lantern mantles"? With whose credit cards, and why didn't they notice?), but I'm not 100% sure it's absolutely impossible in principle.

The danger (which is real) isn't the absolute amount of material involved, it's the fact that for the most part it is in an easily dispersed form -- ash, scraped powder, dust, salts. What that means is that it can be (inadvertently and unknowingly) inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through breaks in the skin. That can be a lot' more damaging than exposure to a well-contained sealed source. Remember the 1/r2 rule? Now let r go to effectively zero, since the source is under your skin.

The terms "more" or "less" radioactive are imprecise colloquialisms, which really refer to "activity." Important quantitative numbers are the amount (mass or molar) of material, and the decay rate (inverse half-life). A ton of uranium stored under your desk can make you just as sick as a few grams of technetium. What is important is the "activity", the number of particles emitted per second from this particular chunk of material.

We measure the activity of a specific source in units of "curies," "becquerels", or "rads" (look them up on Wikipedia). The higher the activity, the more dangerous to health (since the number of particles translates to the number of your cells potentially hit, etc.).

If you bombard a "less radioactive source" and transmute it into something with a shorter half-life, you may or may not end up with higher activity. It depends on both the ratio of half-lives and the conversion efficiency. There's no conservation law involved.
westfw kelseymh6 years ago
I think you're missing my point. Let's see if I can express it better...

  • Important quantitative numbers are the amount (mass or molar) of material, and the decay rate (inverse half-life).
So suppose you've collected "lots" of alpha-emitting 241Am, such that it's emitting 1e6 alpha particles per second. You turn this into your hobbyist-style neutron source, so now you have 1e6 neutrons per second, which you slam into your Element X target, producing "Element Y" that is particularly nasty stuff, with nice short half-life. Really HOT, this "Element Y". However, no matter how hot element Y is, it STILL can not be decaying at a rate greater than 1e6 decays per second, because AT MOST you're only MAKING 1e6 atoms of the stuff each second, because that's what your original "transmutation beam" is putting out. In reality each of those steps is quite lossy, so you have to be having much fewer decays in your end product than you do in your original material. Lacking any sort of chain reaction in the products (which seems pretty unlikely in small quantities), it doesn't matter how active any of the products are; the overall emission rate has to be lower than your original material. Doesn't it?
This oughta show up as some sort of rule-of-thumb about radioactive materials in general. Start with any lump of "stuff" that you want, emitting whatever you want; it should only be able to get LESS radioactive overall, over time, even if the intermediate decay products are theoretically more active; they just wouldn't be formed in sufficient quantities to make the overall activity higher...

Does that make sense?

(This doesn't mean that the new lump can't be more "dangerous" for reasons other than pure radioactivity; they can be more dispersible, more biologically active, etc, etc.)
kelseymh westfw6 years ago
You wrote, "So suppose you've collected "lots" of alpha-emitting 241Am, such that it's emitting 1e6 alpha particles per second. You turn this into your hobbyist-style neutron source, so now you have 1e6 neutrons per second, which you slam into your Element X target, producing "Element Y" that is particularly nasty stuff, with nice short half-life. Really HOT, this "Element Y". However, no matter how hot element Y is, it STILL can not be decaying at a rate greater than 1e6 decays per second,"

Not so. There is no a priori relationship between the half-lives of your target material and produced output. What is true is that you cannot produce more than 106 _atoms_ of output per second (assuming 100% conversion efficiency). However, if your target material is perfectly stable (i.e., an infinite half-live), such as carbon-12, you can _still_produce 106 atoms of radioactive carbon-13 per second.

You also wrote, "Start with any lump of "stuff" that you want, emitting whatever you want; it should only be able to get LESS radioactive overall, over time,"

What you say is true for a closed system -- that is, start with a lump of stuff and wait. Since the total number of atoms is constant (assuming no fission) the number still emitting decreases with time until the whole lump is stable.

It is not necessarily true for an open system -- for example, the hypothesized lump of stuff which is irradiated to produce new isotopes. In that case, for example, stable atoms mixed into the lump might be made radioactive themselves, increasing the _total_ activity of the lump.
westfw kelseymh6 years ago
*[me] However, no matter how hot element Y is, it STILL can not be decaying at a rate greater than 1e6 decays per second,"
  • [you] Not so. There is no a priori relationship between the half-lives of your target material and produced output.
But you still can't have more atoms decay than you produce. Even if the halflife of Y is mere microseconds, that just means that each atom will decay nearly immediately after it is formed, but that's STILL just 1e6 decays/second.

  • It is not necessarily true for an open system -- for example, the hypothesized lump of stuff which is irradiated to produce new isotopes.
I'm tying to lump all the starting products (Ra, Am, Th, U, etc) into a single closed system The article claimed that this conglomerate of stuff gradually increased in radioactivity, as it might in a breeder reactor. I'm claiming that that is essentially impossible, because the system IS close. It's not like you have an accelerator creating high-energy particle beams by ... pumping lots of energy into normal materials like hydrogen (I always wanted to build that Sci Am Am Sci "proton accelerator"...)

gmoon kelseymh6 years ago
It's not only radioactivity and the good ol' inverse square rule. A lot of this stuff (like thorium) is simply toxic.
kelseymh gmoon6 years ago
True enough. The Harper's article and westfl were focussing on the radiation hazards. As you correctly note, the long-half-life actinides (thorium, depleted uranium, and so) are as likely to give you simple heavy-metal poisoning as radiation sickness.
kelseymh westfw6 years ago
By the way...this is a very useful and interesting discussion! Thanks for introducing it.
The AM would not make such a thing.

Heehee...
It'll show you the movement of the alpha particles that are emitted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_chamber
LinuxH4x0r (author)  LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Found it. Thank you so much!

http://bizarrelabs.com/cloud.htm