It’s strange how everything can be turned into a T-Shirt nowadays, even the Periodic Table. Some treat it as a pop culture artifact–probably because of Breaking Bad, I suppose. Anyways, I saw someone wearing one the other day and I realized I didn’t even know its origin like it was always here. But it’s definitively not the case.
What is The Periodic Table?
Before exploring its origin story, let’s go back a second to what is the periodic table.
In chemistry, the periodic table of the elements is a logical arrangement of all the chemical elements in ascending order of atomic number–or the total number of protons in an atomic nucleus. When the chemical elements are grouped in this way, a pattern known as the “periodic law” in their properties occurs, wherein elements in the same column (group) exhibit comparable qualities.
This essential tool in chemistry sheds light on how elements behave and interact. Several scientists contributed to the creation of this extraordinary table, laying the foundation for what is now known as the modern periodic table.
Who Created the First Periodic Table?
The Early Attempts: Antoine Lavoisier, Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, and Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois
Antoine Lavoisier, who produced a list of elements and categorized them according to their qualities, sparked the effort to classify elements in the late 18th century. Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner discovered groups of elements having related properties in the early 19th century and named these groups “triads” to describe them.
But it was in 1862 that Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois made the first attempt to group elements according to their atomic weights. His “telluric screw” created the first version of the periodic table by vertically aligning elements with comparable properties. Although his study was primarily concerned with geological issues, his arrangement showed how element properties are periodic.
John Newlands’ The Law of Octaves & Lothar Meyer’s Periodic Table
The Law of Octaves by John Newlands sought to classify materials into groups based on similar properties. It was first published in 1865. This structure had some drawbacks, though, including only 56 known elements and not leaving enough room for newly discovered elements.
Due to the disorganized layout of his table, Newlands encountered opposition from the scientific community.
Lothar Meyer published a periodic chart in 1864 that listed 28 elements in ascending order of atomic weight. In Meyer’s table, items with comparable valence characteristics were arranged into vertical columns. His work contributed to the growth of periodic trends in element characteristics and resembled Mendeleev’s table.
Dmitri Mendeleev Introduced the Periodic Table
The creation of the periodic table is typically credited to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. Mendeleev arranged atoms in 1869 according to increasing atomic weight, leaving spaces for yet-to-be-discovered elements.
He discovered patterns where identical elements appeared at regular intervals. Mendeleev’s predictions about the properties of unknown elements were quite correct, solidifying the periodic table’s success. His table also featured configurations for later discovered noble gases.
Refining the Table: Henry Moseley’s Atomic Number
Henry Moseley altered the periodic table in 1913 by organizing elements according to atomic number rather than atomic weight. Moseley’s X-ray investigations enabled him to precisely establish atomic numbers, reconciling disparities in previous arrangements.
This important modification established the essential relationship between an element’s characteristics and its atomic number.
The current version of the periodic table, developed and evolved by many scientists, is still a cornerstone of chemistry. It arranges elements into periods and groups by ordering them by increasing atomic numbers. It is a vital tool for academics, educators, and enterprises worldwide, with over a hundred elements found and integrated into the table.
If you’re interested in scientific discoveries, I previously wrote about the invention of the metric system.