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Nuclear chemistry is the study of the chemical and physical properties of elements as influenced by changes in the structure of the atomic nucleus.
Both Mc Millan and Seaborg recognized that the chemical properties of neptunium and plutonium did not resemble those of rhenium and osmium, as many had predicted, but more closely resembled the chemistry of uranium, a fact that led Seaborg in 1944 to propose that the transuranic elements were part of a new group of elements called the actinide series that should be placed below the lanthanide series on the periodic chart.
Seaborg and coworkers went on to discover many more new elements and radioactive isotopes and to study their chemical and physical properties.
While the common perception is that nuclear chemistry involves only the study of radioactive nuclei, advances in modern mass spectrometry instrumentation has made chemical studies using stable, nonradioactive isotopes increasingly important.
There are essentially three sources of radioactive elements.
Primordial nuclides are radioactive elements whose half-lives are comparable to the age of our solar system and were present at the formation of Earth.
These nuclides are generally referred to as naturally occurring radioactivity and are derived from the radioactive decay of thorium and uranium.
Through tedious chemical separation procedures involving precipitation of different chemical fractions, Marie was able to show that a separated fraction that had the chemical properties of bismuth and another fraction that had the chemical properties of barium were much more radioactive per unit mass than the original uranium ore.
In 1911 Ernest Rutherford asked a student, George de Hevesy, to separate a lead impurity from a decay product of uranium, radium-D.
De Hevesy did not succeed in this task (we now know that radium-D is the radioactive isotope Pb to measure the solubility of lead salts—the first application of an isotopic tracer technique.
In Germany in 1938, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, skeptical of claims by Enrico Fermi and Irène Joliot-Curie that bombardment of uranium by neutrons produced new so-called transuranic elements (elements beyond uranium), repeated these experiments and chemically isolated a radioactive isotope of barium.
Unable to interpret these findings, Hahn asked Lise Meitner, a physicist and former colleague, to propose an explanation for his observations.