What Promethium looks like.
The existence of promethium was first predicted by Bohuslav Brauner in 1902. During his research on the chemical properties of rare earth elements he found that the difference between neodymium and samarium is larger than between the other lanthanides. This prediction was supported in 1914 by Henry Moseley who, having discovered that atomic number was an experimentally measurable property of elements, found that no known element had atomic number 61. With the knowledge of a gap in the periodic table several groups started to search for the predicted element among other rare earths in natural environment.
Promethium was first produced and characterized at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 1945 by Jacob A. Marinsky, Lawrence E. Glendenin and Charles D. Coryell by separation and analysis of the fission products of uranium fuel irradiated in the Graphite Reactor; however, being too busy with military-related research during World War II, they did not announce their discovery until 1947. The name promethium is derived from Prometheus, the Titan, in Greek mythology, who stole the fire from Mount Olympus and brought it down to mankind. The name was suggested by Grace Mary Coryell, Charles Coryell's wife, who felt that they were stealing fire from the gods.
In 1963, ion-exchange methods were used at ORNL to prepare about ten grams of promethium from nuclear reactor fuel processing wastes.
Today, promethium is still recovered from the byproducts of uranium fission; it can also be produced by bombarding 146Nd with neutrons, turning it into 147Nd which decays into 147Pm through beta decay with a half-life of 11 days.
Promethium can be formed in nature as a product of spontaneous fission of uranium-238 and alpha decay of europium-151. Only trace amounts can be found in naturally occurring ores: a sample of pitchblende has been found to contain promethium at a concentration of four parts per quintillion (1018) by mass. It was calculated that the equilibrium mass of promethium in the earth's crust is about 560 g due to uranium fission and about 12 g due to the recently observed alpha decay of europium-151.
Promethium has also been identified in the spectrum of the star HR 465 in Andromeda, and possibly HD 101065 (Przybylski's star) and HD 965.
Promethium must be handled with great care because of its high radioactivity. In particular, promethium can emit X-rays during its beta decay. Its half-life is less than that of plutonium-239 by a factor of about 1350, and its biological toxicity is correspondingly higher. Promethium has no biological role.
Check out this interactive Periodic Table.
Check out this Promethium video. Prepared by The University of Nottingham.