Some elements exist in several different structural forms, called allotropes. Each allotrope has different physical properties.

For more information on the Visual Elements image see the Uses and properties section below.



A vertical column in the periodic table. Members of a group typically have similar properties and electron configurations in their outer shell.

A horizontal row in the periodic table. The atomic number of each element increases by one, reading from left to right.

Elements are organised into blocks by the orbital type in which the outer electrons are found. These blocks are named for the characteristic spectra they produce: sharp (s), principal (p), diffuse (d), and fundamental (f).

Atomic number
The number of protons in an atom.

Electron configuration
The arrangements of electrons above the last (closed shell) noble gas.

Melting point
The temperature at which the solid–liquid phase change occurs.

Boiling point
The temperature at which the liquid–gas phase change occurs.

The transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through a liquid phase.

Density (g cm−3)
Density is the mass of a substance that would fill 1 cm3 at room temperature.

Relative atomic mass
The mass of an atom relative to that of carbon-12. This is approximately the sum of the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Where more than one isotope exists, the value given is the abundance weighted average.

Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.

CAS number
The Chemical Abstracts Service registry number is a unique identifier of a particular chemical, designed to prevent confusion arising from different languages and naming systems.

Fact box

Group Actinides  Melting point 827°C, 1521°F, 1100 K 
Period Boiling point Unknown 
Block Density (g cm−3) Unknown 
Atomic number 102  Relative atomic mass [259]  
State at 20°C Solid  Key isotopes 259No 
Electron configuration [Rn] 5f147s2  CAS number 10028-14-5 
ChemSpider ID 23207 ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database


Image explanation

Murray Robertson is the artist behind the images which make up Visual Elements. This is where the artist explains his interpretation of the element and the science behind the picture.


The description of the element in its natural form.

Biological role

The role of the element in humans, animals and plants.

Natural abundance

Where the element is most commonly found in nature, and how it is sourced commercially.

Uses and properties

Image explanation
Nobelium is named after Alfred Nobel. The image features a Japanese ideograph (or virtue word) with various meanings including ‘master teacher’ and ‘noble’ - a pun on the origin of the element’s name. The background features imagery suggestive of particle ‘trails’ like those produced when radiation passes through a cloud chamber.
Nobelium is a radioactive metal. Only a few atoms have ever been made. Its half-life is only 58 minutes.
Nobelium has no uses outside research.
Biological role
Nobelium has no known biological role. It is toxic due to its radioactivity.
Natural abundance
Nobelium is made by bombarding curium with carbon in a device called a cyclotron.
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This element’s history is one of controversy. In 1956, a team led by Georgy Flerov at the Institute of Atomic Energy, Moscow, synthesised element 102 by bombarding plutonium with oxygen and got atoms of element 102, isotope-252. However, they did not report their success.

In 1957, the Nobel Institute of Physics in Stockholm announced isotope-253 which had been made by bombarding curium with carbon. Then in 1958, Albert Ghiorso at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) claimed isotope-254, also made by bombarding curium with carbon. These claims were challenged by the Russians.

In 1962-63, the Russian Joint Institute of Nuclear Research, based at Dubna, synthesised isotopes 252 to 256. Ghiorso still insisted his group were the first to discover element 102, and so began years of recrimination, finally ending in the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemists deciding in favour of the Russians being the discoverers.

Atomic radius, non-bonded
Half of the distance between two unbonded atoms of the same element when the electrostatic forces are balanced. These values were determined using several different methods.

Covalent radius
Half of the distance between two atoms within a single covalent bond. Values are given for typical oxidation number and coordination.

Electron affinity
The energy released when an electron is added to the neutral atom and a negative ion is formed.

Electronegativity (Pauling scale)
The tendency of an atom to attract electrons towards itself, expressed on a relative scale.

First ionisation energy
The minimum energy required to remove an electron from a neutral atom in its ground state.

Atomic data

Atomic radius, non-bonded (Å) 2.46 Covalent radius (Å) 1.76
Electron affinity (kJ mol−1) Unknown Electronegativity
(Pauling scale)
Ionisation energies
(kJ mol−1)


Common oxidation states

The oxidation state of an atom is a measure of the degree of oxidation of an atom. It is defined as being the charge that an atom would have if all bonds were ionic. Uncombined elements have an oxidation state of 0. The sum of the oxidation states within a compound or ion must equal the overall charge.


Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.

Key for isotopes

Half life
  y years
  d days
  h hours
  m minutes
  s seconds
Mode of decay
  α alpha particle emission
  β negative beta (electron) emission
  β+ positron emission
  EC orbital electron capture
  sf spontaneous fission
  ββ double beta emission
  ECEC double orbital electron capture

Oxidation states and isotopes

Common oxidation states 3, 2
Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
  259No 259.101 - 58 m  α 


Data for this section been provided by the British Geological Survey.

Relative supply risk

An integrated supply risk index from 1 (very low risk) to 10 (very high risk). This is calculated by combining the scores for crustal abundance, reserve distribution, production concentration, substitutability, recycling rate and political stability scores.

Crustal abundance (ppm)

The number of atoms of the element per 1 million atoms of the Earth’s crust.

Recycling rate

The percentage of a commodity which is recycled. A higher recycling rate may reduce risk to supply.


The availability of suitable substitutes for a given commodity.
High = substitution not possible or very difficult.
Medium = substitution is possible but there may be an economic and/or performance impact
Low = substitution is possible with little or no economic and/or performance impact

Production concentration

The percentage of an element produced in the top producing country. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.

Reserve distribution

The percentage of the world reserves located in the country with the largest reserves. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.

Political stability of top producer

A percentile rank for the political stability of the top producing country, derived from World Bank governance indicators.

Political stability of top reserve holder

A percentile rank for the political stability of the country with the largest reserves, derived from World Bank governance indicators.



Specific heat capacity (J kg−1 K−1)

Specific heat capacity is the amount of energy needed to change the temperature of a kilogram of a substance by 1 K.

Young's modulus

A measure of the stiffness of a substance. It provides a measure of how difficult it is to extend a material, with a value given by the ratio of tensile strength to tensile strain.

Shear modulus

A measure of how difficult it is to deform a material. It is given by the ratio of the shear stress to the shear strain.

Bulk modulus

A measure of how difficult it is to compress a substance. It is given by the ratio of the pressure on a body to the fractional decrease in volume.

Vapour pressure

A measure of the propensity of a substance to evaporate. It is defined as the equilibrium pressure exerted by the gas produced above a substance in a closed system.

Pressure and temperature data – advanced

Specific heat capacity
(J kg−1 K−1)
Unknown Young's modulus (GPa) Unknown
Shear modulus (GPa) Unknown Bulk modulus (GPa) Unknown
Vapour pressure  
Temperature (K)
400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 2200 2400
Pressure (Pa)
- - - - - - - - - - -
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Listen to Nobelium Podcast
Transcript :

Chemistry in its element: nobelium


You're listening to Chemistry in its element brought to you by Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

(End promo)

Meera Senthilingam

This week 'Oh, how to name an element?' Especially when several groups claim its discovery. And, once named, how to say it? Nobellium? Nobeelium? To clarify, here's Brian Clegg.

Brian Clegg

You'd think it was pretty straightforward to decide what an element is called. But element 102 has had more than its fair share of misunderstandings and arguments. To begin with there's the matter of how to pronounce its current name - nobellium (because it comes from the same root as the Nobel Prize) or nobeelium modelled on the way we say helium. Even the Royal Society of Chemistry's representatives had a raging discussion on this when I asked them, before plumping for nobeelium. And that's just the pronunciation - the name itself took a fair amount of sorting out.

Element 102 is one of the more stable of the short-lived artificial transfermium elements with a half life of 58 minutes for nobelium 259. But how did it get that name? Element names follow four rough patterns. Some - gold, for instance - had their names before we even knew what an element was. Others, like einsteinium, were named after a famous scientist who had a significant role to play in our understanding of atoms, while a third group are named after the place where they were discovered - take californium, for example. Finally, there are the odds and sods. The elements that don't fit anywhere else.

Nobelium can be seen as one of these. Some would argue that Alfred Nobel was a famous scientist. It's true that he was technically a chemist, but I challenge anyone to come up with a scientific discovery that Nobel is famous for. Born in Stockholm in 1833, Nobel was the son of an engineer. He worked in Paris with the inventor of nitroglycerine, a highly explosive but also very unstable substance, and dedicated a number of years to finding a way to make it usable, finally, in 1867, patenting the substance that would make his fortune, dynamite.

Nobel was responsible for the invention of a number of explosives and other chemical products, but was very much an industrial chemist, not the sort of person an element gets named after. The name, you might imagine, instead derives from the Nobel Prize, instituted in Nobel's will, where he declared (somewhat to the surprise of his family) that his fortune would be spent on a foundation to provide prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. But thinking nobelium got its name from the Nobel Prize would be incorrect as well.

In all fairness, it should never have been given this name. The element was first produced in 1956, at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research at Dubna, then in the USSR. The discoverers named it joliotium after Irene Joliot-Curie, Pierre and Marie Curie's daughter. They seem at the time to have been totally ignored by the international community. It was only in 1997 that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the body that polices the naming of elements, admitted that the Russian lab did first create element 102. But by then it was too late.

Just two years after the creation of joliotium in Dubna, nobelium was made at the Heavy Ion Linear Accelerator at Berkeley, California, by bombarding curium with carbon ions. This experiment was undertaken by the team including Albert Ghiorso and Glenn T. Seaborg, who were responsible for isolating so many elements at Berkeley. Yet they didn't give the element its name. It had already been called nobelium for a year.

This is because a team at the Nobel Institute of Physics in Stockholm had announced the discovery of a new element the year before in 1957. Using a cyclotron to undertake a similar reaction, they thought they had produced an isotope of element 102 with a half-life of ten minutes. Not unnaturally they wanted to call the element nobelium. But their experiment could not be verified - such an isotope has never been shown to exist. So nobelium is a one-off, fitting somewhere between groups three and four. It's an element that is named after the place it was thought that it was first isolated, but really it wasn't.

Like most of the short-lived artificial elements, we don't know a huge amount about nobelium, though it has been produced in a range of ten different isotopes. It's expected from its position in the table that it would be a grey or silver metal, but there has not been enough made to check this. We do know a little about its chemistry. Unlike most of the actinides, the floating bar of elements that should be squeezed between actinium and lawrencium, which tend to have stable ions with a valency of 3 - that's to say, three electrons' worth of positive charge - nobelium's most stable ions are of valency 2.

Like all the artificial transfermium elements, nobelium is neither use nor ornament. Producing it was an achievement, but it has no practical value, nor is it ever likely to gain one. Although there was initially doubt over the naming of nobelium, perhaps it is only right that the name that finally stuck is associated with the Nobel Prize. It has been suggested that Alfred Nobel, influenced by his friend the peace campaigner Bertha von Suttner, set up the Nobel Prize as an apology for the harm caused by explosives. Out of the negative arose something very positive. In the same way, the Dubna laboratory might have missed out on the initial glory but now they are recognized as discoverers and linked forever to a name that has so much more impact than joliotium could ever have managed.

Meera Senthilingham

So in the end, there was victory all round. That was Brian Clegg with the non-explosive chemistry of nobelium. Now, next week, an element that seems to be misunderstood.

Quentin Cooper

Mistaken-identity history, it's miscredited discoverer, its misleading and often mis-spelled name, all add to the aura of comedy and confusion around molybdenum.....and yet it's an element that's right at the root of life - not just human life, but pretty much all life on the planet: yes you'll find tiny amounts of it in everything from the filaments of electric heaters to missiles to protective coatings in boilers, and its high performance at high temperatures mean it has a range of commercial applications.

Meera Senthilingham

What are those applications, you ask? Well, to find out join Quentin Cooper for next week's Chemistry in its element. Until then, I'm Meera Senthilingham and thank you for listening.


Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced by There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at

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Visual Elements images and videos
© Murray Robertson 1998-2017.



W. M. Haynes, ed., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, CRC Press/Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL, 95th Edition, Internet Version 2015, accessed December 2014.
Tables of Physical & Chemical Constants, Kaye & Laby Online, 16th edition, 1995. Version 1.0 (2005), accessed December 2014.
J. S. Coursey, D. J. Schwab, J. J. Tsai, and R. A. Dragoset, Atomic Weights and Isotopic Compositions (version 4.1), 2015, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, accessed November 2016.
T. L. Cottrell, The Strengths of Chemical Bonds, Butterworth, London, 1954.


Uses and properties

John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, New York, 2nd Edition, 2011.
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility - Office of Science Education, It’s Elemental - The Periodic Table of Elements, accessed December 2014.
Periodic Table of Videos, accessed December 2014.


Supply risk data

Derived in part from material provided by the British Geological Survey © NERC.


History text

Elements 1-112, 114, 116 and 117 © John Emsley 2012. Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 © Royal Society of Chemistry 2017.



Produced by The Naked Scientists.


Periodic Table of Videos

Created by video journalist Brady Haran working with chemists at The University of Nottingham.