I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but 2019 is the Year of the Periodic Table, due to the fact that it’s the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev’s creation of his periodic table. You heard me, his Periodic Table. No doubt you’ve seen some of the other versions, like the periodic table of chocolate, the periodic table of beer, and the periodic table of the internet. There’s all sorts of merchandise, such as with cupcakes, the anniversary mugs ACS sends out for its members, and the shirts spelling out various things with element symbols. However, these are all based on Mendeleev’s version of a periodic table.
There are a couple versions that were actually developed in the mid-1800s as well. Many different chemists tried their hand at creating a periodic table (starting in the late 1700s), but there were certainly difficulties in doing so. Periodic tables are used both to communicate known trends and predict new ones. That is one of the greatest strengths of the most well-known periodic table, since it was able to predict the properties of new elements that had yet to be discovered. However, at that time, far fewer elements were known, and no elements had been created in the lab. Discovering trends linking various elements was far more difficult. Some attempts were generally criticized because they weren’t that useful or even gave incorrect information.
The earliest known attempt was actually by a French geologist (slightly outside of his area of expertise, in other words), Chancourtois. Some of the data was wrong, and, additionally, Chancourtois published in a geology journal, not a chemistry journal, so it didn’t get quite the attention it deserved. In addition, the periodic table was designed to be 3D—it was in the shape of a cylinder—but printed in a 2D form. While this sounds like a fun idea in theory, in practice it’s a lot more difficult, since they didn’t have copy machines and most scientists have better things to do with the journals they bought than cutting out a page to make a cylinder out of it.
Meyer developed his periodic table around the same time as Mendeleev (which is relatively common in the history of science—concurrent discoveries happened all the time, and it’s rare that both groups of researchers get the credit). He organized his table by atomic weight, while Mendeleev’s table is organized by atomic number (the number of protons). While there is a general trend of increasing atomic weight in Mendeleev’s more popular periodic table, it’s not the organizational principle by which Meyer created his table.
Someone else had practically discovered the same periodic table as Mendeleev, an academic named Newlands. However, his presentation was flawed. To get it to look like he wanted, he placed a few elements in the same box, and didn’t leave space for new elements to be added. This led to a lot of criticism including a refusal to publish his article, so his discovery was ignored until long after his death.
What’s your favorite version of a periodic table?