Californium is a radioactive metallic chemical element with symbol Cf and atomic number 98. The element was first made in 1950 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, by bombarding curium with alpha particles (helium-4 ions). It is an actinide element, the sixth transuranium element to be synthesized, and has the second-highest atomic mass of all the elements that have been produced in amounts large enough to see with the unaided eye (after einsteinium). The element was named after the university and the state of California.
Two crystalline forms exist for californium under normal pressure: one above and one below 900 °C (1,650 °F). A third form exists at high pressure. Californium slowly tarnishes in air at room temperature. Compounds of californium are dominated by a chemical form of the element, designated californium(III), that can participate in three chemical bonds. The most stable of californium's twenty known isotopes is californium-251, which has a half-life of 898 years. This short half-life means the element is not found in significant quantities in the Earth's crust.[a] Californium-252, with a half-life of about 2.64 years, is the most common isotope used and is produced at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States and the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Russia.
Californium is one of the few transuranium elements that have practical applications. Most of these applications exploit the property of certain isotopes of californium to emit neutrons. For example, californium can be used to help start up nuclear reactors, and it is employed as a source of neutrons when studying materials with neutron diffraction and neutron spectroscopy. Californium can also be used in nuclear synthesis of higher mass elements; ununoctium (element 118) was synthesized by bombarding californium-249 atoms with calcium-48 ions. Users of californium must take into account radiological concerns and the element's ability to disrupt the formation of red blood cells by bioaccumulating in skeletal tissue.