Fermium is a metallic chemical element classified among the actinide series on the periodic table of elements. It is also what is known as a transuranic element, meaning that it has an atomic number higher than that of uranium. Transuranic elements share a number of interesting traits, but their most distinctive trait is probably their extreme instability. These elements are very reactive and they have very short half lives, and as a result they are rarely, if ever, found in nature. This makes them highly challenging to study, as they are difficult to obtain and when they are available, it is typically only in very small amounts.
The chemical properties of this element are not really known, although it is presumed to share traits with other actinides. Scientists have succeeded in creating only very small amounts of fermium artificially, so while the existence of the element has been proved, little more is known about it. It is most certainly highly radioactive, and 10 fermium isotopes have been identified by bombarding plutonium with neutrons. On the periodic table of elements, you can find fermium under atomic number 100; the element's symbol is Fm.
This element was first identified in 1952 by Albert Ghiorso and a team of physicists who were studying the residue left behind by explosions of atomic bombs in the South Pacific. These test explosions revealed a great deal about the nature of such devices, along with their byproducts. The discovery of fermium was actually kept secret until 1955, due to the Cold War; government officials were afraid that the Soviets might utilize the element as a potential weapon.
Ghiorso and his team were given the honor of naming their discovery, by convention, and they chose to name it for Enrico Fermi, a prominent Italian physicist who died in 1954. Fermi did a great deal of work on the reactions which were used to synthesize fermium in the laboratory, making this naming particularly apt. The element also briefly went by centurium, in a reference to its atomic number, but this name was later abandoned.
Like other radioactive elements, there is a potential health risk to fermium. However, since the element is so rare, this risk is not a concern for most people. The handful of people who work with elements like fermium, along with their isotopes, have special training in dealing with radioactive material to ensure that their work is safe.