• The americium is this little smear, maybe?
  • I wonder what's making the colors..

Americium-241

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This is about 0.2 micrograms of Am-241, and it emits about 1 microcurie of alpha radiation. These are commonly found in ionizing smoke alarms. Even though it's radioactive, it's not very dangerous. A piece of paper, a few centimeters of air, or even the layer of dead cells on your skin are adequate shielding. About the only way this could hurt you is if you ate it.
Shot with my MPE-65 at a little over 2x magnification.

P_Dawg, mightyohm, negro_slim, and 3 other people added this photo to their favorites.

  1. JSF99 78 months ago | reply

    This is really cool!

    And interesting... :)

  2. JSF99 78 months ago | reply

    I meant the content is interesting! Like, the description!

    Although the picture is too! Ah!

  3. Batian_Lion 78 months ago | reply

    hmm, interesting.
    but 0,2 MICROgrams? what's the "filler" making up the rest of the mass of this piece then? even if it were 0,2 grams it'd seem pretty big to be made of pure americium.
    Or is the americium maybe only a coating on the surface?

  4. AMagill 78 months ago | reply

    I suspect that little smear in the center is the americium, and the rest is just a carrier to hold it in the smoke detector. Obviously, the company that makes the detector wants to minimize the amount of radioactive material they put in their products. I don't think you'd want to mix the americium with any other metals, either, because the alpha radiation is so easily shielded it would just be a waste.

  5. Ernestino Maravalhas (NoVDO) 78 months ago | reply

    Thanks for the info! Nice pic ;oP

  6. Argentoratum 75 months ago | reply

    Nice, you don't see pictures taken with the MPE-65 very often.

    Even if Am 241 emits mostly α particles, I would not have dared to put my sensor so close to the radioactive source. :)

  7. kc2pit 65 months ago | reply

    I think you're right about the tiny smear being the Am-241.

    The colors are probably made by the protective plating over the americium. Without some isolation from the atmosphere, it'll oxidize and increase the risk of some particles going walkabout. The material over the americium (I've read that gold is used, but I'm not certain of that) can't be too thick or it'll absorb the alpha particles, so you're probably looking at a several-atom-thick layer of gold there. Not enough to be recognized as the metal itself, but enough to affect light reflection and create the colored interference fringes.

  8. P_Dawg 65 months ago | reply

    If I did eat it what sort of effects would I expect to get from it? (This is a serious question)

  9. AMagill 65 months ago | reply

    I'm not an expert, but I think that it could greatly increase your chances of getting cancer. The americium would be able to come into contact with cells in your stomach or, even worse, they might be separated from the carrier and absorbed into your blood. I doubt there's nearly enough radiation for any acute effects, but the radiation could damage your cells' DNA, possibly leading to cancer down the road.
    If you've eaten one, get yourself to a hospital immediately.

  10. P_Dawg 65 months ago | reply

    Cheers for the response, good job I didn't eat it or remove it from it's little casing in my smoke detector.

  11. negro_slim 63 months ago | reply

    heh got here from sparkfun

  12. hansrasen 48 months ago | reply

    It tastes like chocolate ... joking.
    Very useful for random number generators.

  13. Aviator172 41 months ago | reply

    I made a neutron gun using that and aluminum foil. The alpha rays are filtered through the foil into neutrons, which are guided onto a metal probe. Anything metal turns radioactive. By the way, I'm twelve. Any children that arent as old as me should not try this.

  14. TelluriumLabs 35 months ago | reply


    yeah.... thats an awful idea. your ONLY twelve and to me, thats a young age to start building a neutron gun (unless you are working with someone or you really know what your doing). I also have a neutron gun and im only 15 but im working with a man that worked at CERN. Big difference, I suggest you find a someone like that to help you or you could end up just like david hahn. Neutrons are extremely dangerous and should not be tampered with unless you have a very important need for them. although your not really gonna get anywhere with the things you suggest, your gun is really inefficient and your aluminum is not light enough to make things radioactive

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