Plutonium’s new horizons

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The piece on plutonium in the December issue (subscription req’d) marks the end of last year’s writing competition’s excitement; all winning essays have now appeared in the journal as ‘in your element’ articles — we hope you enjoyed reading them!


The last word goes to Jan Hartmann, graduate student at RWTH Aachen University, who acknowledges the history of plutonium yet highlights that nuclear weapons, and nuclear energy, are not all there is to this intriguing element.

Whether it counts as a naturally occurring element is pretty much a matter of opinion — some plutonium has been isolated from uranium ore, but only traces, and all the plutonium in nature makes up about 2 x 10–19 weight% (minus nineteen!) of the lithosphere so you’re free to consider that the heaviest naturally-occurring element is really uranium.

Hartmann’s article describes why element 94 is referred to as “a physicist’s dream but an engineer’s nightmare”, and also discusses the rich redox and coordination chemistries of this element. But one anecdote I’m particularly fond of is that, “of all the elements named after celestial objects, plutonium is the only one so far to be sent to its astronomical namesake”.


Anne Pichon (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)

Anne Pichon

Senior Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature

Anne received a broad training in chemistry at the National Graduate School of Chemistry in Montpellier, France. She then focused on inorganic and supramolecular chemistry and obtained her MPhil and PhD degrees from the Queen's University Belfast, UK, investigating porous coordination polymers for host–guest applications. After an internship with Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, Anne moved to John Wiley and Sons in 2007 as an assistant editor of the Society of Chemical Industry journals. She joined Nature Chemistry in October 2008, and was initially based in Tokyo where she also worked on other publishing projects with Nature Asia-Pacific. In April 2013, Anne relocated to the London office and now works full time on the journal.