An Elemental Celebration

Published in May 2018 Wayne County Gem and Mineral Newsletter

Contrary to what you may have thought in high school, the Periodic Table of the Elements was not created to torture high school chemistry students.  The idea was simple at first.  Aristotle considered a four element table way back in 330 BCE.  He identified earth, air, fire and water as the four elemental building blocks.  But others since have not been satisfied with his simple approach, and the list grew and with that came complexity.

By the 1700s some 30 elements had been isolated and described and that grew to over 60 by the middle of the 19th century.  And it was in the middle of the 19th century that several chemists and inventors working independently began to recognize patterns in those elements and began to organize them into lists and tables.  A Russian chemist named Dmitri Mendeleev had the foresight to recognize that the known elements should be organized on their atomic weight and he also set the elements into a two-dimensional grid based on common properties.  But it was his observations that the chart needed gaps for elements that had yet to be discovered that set him apart from others.  For this insight, Mendeleev is credited as the “father of the Periodic Table”.

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