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Francium is one of the most unstable and least common naturally occurring elements. It is only found in trace amounts in uranium and thorium ores, and it has the second longest half-life of any natural element (after astatine). In fact, it may not even be present on Earth at all; estimates suggest that only about 30 g of francium exists in the entire crust. Francium is also the most expensive naturally occurring element: a kilogram would cost a billion dollars.
Although Dmitri Mendeleev predicted the existence of francium in the late nineteenth century, it wasn’t until 1939 that Marguerite Perey of the Radium Institute at the University of Paris actually discovered it. The French chemist named the new element after her country, France, and it became the last naturally-occurring element to be discovered rather than synthesized in a laboratory.
Because of its instability, francium is very difficult to study. In the few samples of the element that have been gathered, it decays quickly into other elements and is extremely radioactive. One of the few ways to study francium is by trapping its atoms in magnetic fields. Scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook have been able to do this using a heavy-ion nuclear fusion reactor at the Stony Brook Nuclear Structure Laboratory.
It is very important to wear gloves and a face mask when handling francium, as inhalation can lead to severe lung damage. The metal is also toxic if swallowed, so it should be kept away from food and water.