Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
This instructible shows how to obtain and extract Americium,have fun :)
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Step 1: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
Inside inexpensive smoke alarms is a tiny amount of the radioactive element Americium. The isotope used, americium 241, has a half life of 452 years. Since americium 241 decays into the much more stable isotope neptunium 237 (half-life 2.1 million years), the sample in the smoke detector will have a few trillion new neptunium atoms in it every year.

Step 2: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
To get to the sample, we disassemble the smoke detector.

Step 3: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
The chamber that contains the americium sample is usually easy to find and open

Step 4: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
Removing the plastic parts gets us closer to the americium.

Step 5: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
The americium itself, in this smoke detector, is plated onto a small button of metal. Other detectors I have disassembled have the americium plated onto a small disc.

Step 6: How to Obtain and Extract Americium

Picture of How to Obtain and Extract Americium
If you have a geiger counter or a scintillation detector, you can use it to confirm that the sample is radioactive. Since americium 241 emits only alpha particles (and a very small amount of low energy gamma), it is safe if kept in the glass bottle, since alpha particles don't penetrate glass.

Okay,so now you know how to Obtain and Extract  americium :-o
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lancruz2 years ago
Ok! Now that I've extracted Americium, what is it good for in it's simplest form besides a smoke detector? Why would anyone want to extract Americium? Just Curious?
The Isotope Americium-241 that is contained in the smoke detectors can be used to detect Radiation by making an Ionization Chamber

Further down in the posts here, you can make a random number generator. This is the same substance in all State Lottery machines in the United States for random number generation. So think of it this way, Every time you buy a quick pick lottery ticket, you are using Americium-241!

J.S1 jpareja12 days ago

No, Am-241 is not used to construct ionization chambers to detect RADIATION, it is used to detector ionization chambers to detect smoke or other particulates in the atmosphere.

Not much, besides the obvious curiosity factor. Some people like the keep rocks and gems, etc. One fun idea is to try and make your own periodic table display with samples of every element.

You can use it, in large quantities, to make a neutron source with a sheet of aluminium. The alpha radiation collides the the Al atoms and kicks off neutrons which you can collimate using a lead box with a hole drilled through it. However, you need 1000+ smoke detectors to get that much. And really there's no reason you should be making neutron sources in your home, but making a neutron diffractometer could be quite interesting though.

It's worth pointing out that you should wash your hands after handling the metal and make sure that you should keep it out of the way of children or anyone who might accidentally swallow it. I doubt the activity of the average smoke detector is particularly high, but ingesting an alpha source can be extremely dangerous if it gets lodged inside you.

Stay safe, kids and don't underestimate the danger of radioactive sources.

"make your own periodic table display with samples of every element." what are you going to do about fluorine and fermium for example?

Normally people use a compound for those, or they just put something symbolic. Realistically there are plenty of elements that you can't get hold of because they have very short half lives and aren't found commonly or at all in nature. So some people limit themselves to the naturally occurring elements of which there are about 90.

You're not going to get a sample of Francium, for instance, but you could include a sample of Thorite which has a couple of atoms of Francium in it at any one time.


The Am-241 source in 1 microcurie activity amounts is useful for demonstration in a variety of physics / nuclear physics experiments. For neutron sources, the practical amount/activity (they are interchangeable as when you have an amount in mass (g, mg, microg, ng, pg, etc) you can determine the activity in Ci, and vice versa) for such a source is around a millicurie, easily obtainable (NO, 1000 detectors are not needed unless the detectors you are dealing with only contain 1 microcuire. The old smoke detectors like the Pyrotronics F3/5A, F5B, F5, etc. orginially contained 80 microcuries distributed over several billets in the device. So it is easy to obtain multi-millicure amounts.). It's not illegal to remove the sources (so long as you remove them from devices distributed under an "E" license. Quote "The puchaser is exempt from any regulatory requirements" and Quote (from the HPS member site

"There is anything legally wrong with the personal appropriation of sealed Am-241 sources toward a neutron source. In a sense it's just moving them around. The sources retain their regulatory identity as individual, sealed sources subject to the terms of a (expired) General License; they just 'happen' to be stored in contact with a piece of beryllium."

So there you have it. Two definitive statements. And for more uses, post back, I will monitor this thread.

Now whether it's smart to reveal the source location, probably not. but it isn't illegal. What you see in the last photo is NOT the smallest obtainable piece. I have attached an image of the center foil "dot" I removed from the stainless steel "button", it is retained by the crimped SS edge. Immersion in 6M HCl will dissolve the crimped edges and this will fall out. This is a foil constructed as follows:

Overall Thickness 0.155-0.258 mm

Face* 0.002-0.003 mm

Americium/Gold Matrix Layer 0.002 mm

Gold Backing 0.001 mm

Silver Backing 0.15-0.25 mm

gold/palladium alloy, gold/palladium or palladium (Depending on the
of the face, the appearance can be anywhere from lustrous yellow
(appearance of gold), to lustrous silver/gray (Palladium has the
appearance of silver..)).This
was cut from a larger foil sheet during manufacture at the factory, the
foil stock was laid over a batch of 60 steel buttons, and a press was
used to simultaneously punch 60 “dots” into the SS receptacles and at
the same instant creating the crimps that
retain the source dots.For more detailed, but proprietary information on the Cerberus-Pyrotronics
foils, please send me a private message along with an intended use statement.

With this information, should there be some reason a person would need Am-241 in
reagent form, the talented chemist would know how extract the Am-241 by chemical treatment.Again,
communications with intended use may be answered with detailed
extraction (note, simple acid digestion will not liberate the Am-241 in
ionic species in solution.The
Am-241 is present in the sandwich of metals as Am(IV) oxide (AmO2), this is not “Americium dioxide”—it is Americium(IV) oxide.You
never use the Greek prefixes (di-, tri-, etc.) when it is a binary compound of a metal and non-metal.Greek
prefixes are only appropriate in compounds with all non-metal elements comprising them.

Hope this clears up a lot of misconceptions!

The Radiochemist

those neutrons + some uranium 238 (or whatever) then can be used for nuclear bombs!!!
feralucce -max-2 years ago
In reality, AM241 can reach a critical mass at between 57.6-and 75.6 Kg of material
So with the average smoke detector containing 0.3 micrograms, all I have to do is take apart 200 billion smoke detectors and I can make a bomb?
Yep - anyone interested should read up on "The Radioactive Boy Scout".
btw, the radiation of this isotope will not even penetrate your skin
Just to clarify this factual error:

Firstly, while alpha particles do not travel far in air, and many can be stopped by skin, they do penetrate to a degree.  22 micron thick paper with stop most of the alphas emitted from this particular radionuclide.  The higher the energy thought, the further they go.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Am-241 decays with low energy gamma photons, but do not be deceived, what they lack in energy, they make up for in abundance leading to a very intense gamma radiation release per decay.

Hopefully, someone has the good sense to know that detection methods are varied, and each has an efficiency for a given type of radiative energy, be it corpuscular or photon.  For Am-241, a Geiger counter for example is a TERRIBLE choice.  The alpha needs to be measured independently of the gamma by alpha spectrometry.  The gamma needs to be measured by either LSC (preferred), or gamma spectrometry (a suitable substitute).

1.0 microcurie may not seem like a big deal, but the radiation you aren't detecting is.

Per - Americium is also used as a portable source for gamma radiography

tbt10f lancruz2 years ago
I like to get about 12 of them and glue them to a bracelet I put around my balls. It's "tingley".
your future child will have 3 ears... lucky!
I was just going to ask that very same question! LOL
Why do they call it "Americium"? Why not "Britishium" or "Spanishium" or "Chinesium" or "Russium" or "Someothercountrium"? If it was named after an older country, would it have a longer half life? What if it were named after a really unstable country? Never underestimate the power of names!
I believe it is called Americium because it was first synthesized in America. Actually (correct me if I'm wrong) it was one of three elements first synthesized at UC Berkley: Americium, Californium, and Berkelium. There was an element named after Russia too: Darmstadtium.
J.S1 zilcho2 days ago

Correct! It was first discovered in the United States by Glenn T. Seaborg (as lead investigator/principal investigator) and his research group at UC Berkeley Rad-Lab. Indeed, as the group discovered it, they were permitted to nominate the name they wished it to be known by (subject to final IUPAC acceptance). It is pronounced am-er-ISH-ee-em.

zilcho zilcho2 years ago
My bad, the Russian element was Dubnium not Darmstadtium.
JBarche zilcho4 months ago

Actually there are a few elements named after countries:

Germanium, Ruthenium, Polonium

dudelman zilcho9 months ago
Yes, Darmstadt is in Germany.
Yes! Iranium! Sounds perfect! Time to become a physicist, discover element 119 just so I can call it "Iranium".
hahaha...give me credit tho...ill have to sue if you dont!! lol
Indeed. It will probably be int the 130's by the time I get around to it, though.
LMFAO x 2 !!!!
'Well-Said !'
because the discoverer gets to name it
Given that ALL the countries in the "Americas" are unstable, you may be onto something here. Africium just doesn't have the same ring to it. If you want something that's "European" and very unstable, try Greecium.
It was named after the Americas not the United States of America.

You should probably give credit to the website you copied this entire set of text and images from. Customarily, people cite information that is not their property.

mgreening2 years ago
Do you, the editors at, really think it is a good idea to give instructions to impressionable script-kiddies on how to liberate a radioactive substance, even though it is only an Alpha emitter, with no apparent concern for their health or the health of the people that may come in contact with them or the products of their "experiments"? Even though Americium is "just" and Alpha emitter, Alpha particles can cause cellular damage including cancers. All it takes is the tiniest dust-like flake to be ingested or inhaled to cause serious, possibly life threatening damage.

Here is the link to the EPA warning on Americium

Once in the body, americium-241 tends to concentrate in the bone, liver, and muscle.
Americium-241 poses a significant risk if ingested (swallowed) or inhaled. It can stay in the body for decades and continue to expose the surrounding tissues to both alpha and gamma radiation, increasing the risk of developing cancer. Americium-241 also poses a cancer risk to all organs of the body from direct external exposure to its gamma radiation.
Exposure to any significant amount of Am-241 is unlikely under normal circumstances. ("Normal circumstances" do not include trying to access or remove the Am-241 source in a smoke detector!)

While I appreciate your sentiment, I don't think you should be pulling out the "do the editors at instructables think that..." card here.
For example, there are a lot of projects on here that use MDF (Medium-density fibreboard) The dust from that, like asbestos, when it gets in your lungs or nose can cause cancer.
I know most of the articles on here say you should wear a dust mask, and list the precautions that should be taken. The same "impressionable script-kiddies" could start working with MDF and ignore those precautions too.... should all those instructables be taken down?
Then there are the ones that use fire, high voltages, water.... how many people are killed by fire, electrocution and drowning each year?

If people are stupid enough to act stupidly, well... there are the Darwin Awards for that.
If kiddies are too young to understand the danger, and do something irresponsible after reading something on the internet, then the question needs to be asked, what are their irresponsible parents doing? Not supervising them? Not teaching them to understand that some things are dangerous and if you read something that says here are the dangers, here are the precautions, then you should act accordingly?
...and if children are too young to understand that last concept, then the parents should still be supervising them.
The world is a dangerous place. Covering everything in bubble wrap is not the answer. The world is also a fascinating place. Which you can't see and learn about through layers of bubble wrap.

"just an alpha emitter" , alpha emitters are nasty(very) and so is alpha radiation but as long as you avoid any part of your body being within a few centimetres of the source for more than a few seconds you ought to be fine. radioactivity is a common natural phenomenon, we evolved to deal with background amounts so the amount from 1 detector may as well be harmless.
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