Saturday March 6, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Periodic Table of the Elements

On this Day:

In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev presented the first periodic table of the elements to the Russian Chemical Society.

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, 8 February 1834 – 2 February 1907 [OS 27 January 1834 – 20 January 1907]) was a Russian chemist and inventor. He is best remembered for formulating the Periodic Law and creating a farsighted version of the periodic table of elements. He used the Periodic Law not only to correct the then-accepted properties of some known elements, such as the valence and atomic weight of uranium, but also to predict the properties of eight elements that were yet to be discovered.

In 1863, there were 56 known elements with a new element being discovered at a rate of approximately one per year. Other scientists had previously identified periodicity of elements. John Newlands described a Law of Octaves, noting their periodicity according to relative atomic weight in 1864, publishing it in 1865. His proposal identified the potential for new elements such as germanium. The concept was criticized and his innovation was not recognized by the Society of Chemists until 1887. Another person to propose a periodic table was Lothar Meyer, who published a paper in 1864 describing 28 elements classified by their valence, but with no predictions of new elements.

After becoming a teacher in 1867, Mendeleev wrote the definitive textbook of his time: Principles of Chemistry (two volumes, 1868–1870). It was written as he was preparing a textbook for his course. This is when he made his most important discovery. As he attempted to classify the elements according to their chemical properties, he noticed patterns that led him to postulate his periodic table; he claimed to have envisioned the complete arrangement of the elements in a dream:

I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.
— Mendeleev, as quoted by Inostrantzev

By adding additional elements following his discovered pattern, Mendeleev developed his extended version of the periodic table. On 6 March 1869, he made a formal presentation to the Russian Chemical Society, titled The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements, which described elements according to both atomic weight (now called relative atomic mass) and valence.

Mendeleev published his periodic table of all known elements and predicted several new elements to complete the table in a Russian-language journal. Only a few months after, Meyer published a virtually identical table in a German-language journal. Mendeleev has the distinction of accurately predicting the properties of what he called ekasilicon, ekaaluminium and ekaboron (germanium, gallium and scandium, respectively).

Mendeleev also proposed changes in the properties of some known elements. Prior to his work, uranium was supposed to have valence 3 and atomic weight about 120. Mendeleev realized that these values did not fit in his periodic table, and doubled both to valence 6 and atomic weight 240 (close to the modern value of 238).

For his predicted eight elements, he used the prefixes of eka, dvi, and tri (Sanskrit one, two, three) in their naming. Mendeleev questioned some of the currently accepted atomic weights (they could be measured only with a relatively low accuracy at that time), pointing out that they did not correspond to those suggested by his Periodic Law. He noted that tellurium has a higher atomic weight than iodine, but he placed them in the right order, incorrectly predicting that the accepted atomic weights at the time were at fault. He was puzzled about where to put the known lanthanides, and predicted the existence of another row to the table which were the actinides which were some of the heaviest in atomic weight. Some people dismissed Mendeleev for predicting that there would be more elements, but he was proven to be correct when Ga (gallium) and Ge (germanium) were found in 1875 and 1886 respectively, fitting perfectly into the two missing spaces.

By using Sanskrit prefixes to name “missing” elements, Mendeleev may have recorded his debt to the Sanskrit grammarians of ancient India, who had created sophisticated theories of language based on their discovery of the two-dimensional patterns of speech sounds (arguably most strikingly exemplified by the Śivasūtras in Pāṇini’s Sanskrit grammar). Mendeleev was a friend and colleague of the Sanskritist Otto von Böhtlingk, who was preparing the second edition of his book on Pāṇini at about this time, and Mendeleev wished to honor Pāṇini with his nomenclature.

The original draft made by Mendeleev would be found years later and published under the name Tentative System of Elements.

Dmitri Mendeleev is often referred to as the Father of the Periodic Table. He called his table or matrix, “the Periodic System” (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What is the smartest element in the Periodic Table of the elements? Einsteinium

Second, a Song:

I would not have known about Tom Lehrer were it not for my good friend and fellow lawyer Joe Kashi up in Soldotna, Alaska.

Thomas Andrew Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is a retired American musician, singer-songwriter, satirist, and mathematician. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater. He is best known for the pithy and humorous songs that he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s. His songs often parodied popular musical forms, though he usually created original melodies when doing so. A notable exception is “The Elements”, in which he set the names of the chemical elements to the tune of the “Major-General’s Song” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

Lehrer’s early musical work typically dealt with non-topical subject matter and was noted for its black humor in songs such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”. In the 1960s, he produced a number of songs that dealt with social and political issues of the day, particularly when he wrote for the U.S. version of the television show That Was the Week That Was. The popularity of these songs has far outlasted their topical subjects and references. Lehrer quoted a friend’s explanation: “Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.” In the early 1970s, Lehrer largely retired from public performances to devote his time to teaching mathematics and musical theater history at the University of California, Santa Cruz (per Wikipedia).

Here is Tom Lehrer performing “The Elements” live in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September 1967. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Work, look for peace and calm in work: you will find it nowhere else.” – Dmitri Mendeleev

The Steinway Smile struck a chord! 

In response to the Steinway Smile:

Toby Snelgrove of Victoria, BC, Canada writes:

“Sold our Steinway, over 100 years old, before our move to Victoria last month. I got it from my step-mom because I kept up in piano the longest as a kid. It was a player piano from a hotel bar in NY … the player unit was removed .. sold it for a song $1000 to a sweet family on Mayne Island. If it was kept in its original condition (mom painted it white) would be worth $20,000.

Put that in your Funk and Wagnalls.


Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

Leave a Reply