2019 is the international year of periodic table

PUBLISH DATE 18th February 2019

In 1869, Dimitri Mendeleev, a Russian chemist, mapped all these 60 elements onto a table based on their weights and properties. He called it, “an attempt at a system of elements, based on their atomic weight and chemical affinity”.

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” – Thomas A. Edison

This is exactly what Hennig Brand, a German amateur alchemist did 178 years before Edison set his foot on this planet. Hennig Brand, in 1669, tried to create a material which could turn metal into gold, which is famously referred to as Philosopher’s Stone. In one such attempt, a liquid formed had the capability of bursting into flames and this is where the first discovery of phosphorus happened.

Two centuries later, the world had witnessed the discovery of close to 60 chemical elements. In 1869, Dimitri Mendeleev, a Russian chemist, mapped all these 60 elements onto a table based on their weights and properties. He called it, “an attempt at a system of elements, based on their atomic weight and chemical affinity”.

This became a breakthrough invention and gave rise to almost half of the modern periodic table. This invention is regarded as one of the greatest scientific contributions of all time because of its amazing ability to put enormous information under one single roof. The more he realized the fact that there are multiple elements with similar properties which can be placed into one bucket, the more he was convinced of slowly opening the doors to the concept of a law of nature.

Global Impact

The arrangements of elements in the periodic table, based on properties and atomic mass, made the life of scientists easy as they were able to save time in choosing the elements for their experiments rather than testing them individually.

In 1937, an Italian physicist named Emilio Segrè discovered eka-manganese, named as Technetium a decade later, which is the first artificial synthetic element to be discovered that gave rise to the birth of some of the heaviest elements on earth.

Significantly, there are many female scientists whose contributions gave rise to the present day periodic table. Marie Curie discovered Polonium and Radium in one of her PhD experiments on uranium rays. The difficult part of distinguishing almost similar elements based on their atomic weight and chemical properties was taken up by a Russian chemist Julia Lermontova. Stefanie Horovitz, a Polish-Jewish chemist provided the experimental proof of Isotopes.

Apart from contributions around the world, the modern periodic table is not alien to contributions by the Indians. Susant Lahiri and Moumita Maiti from Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) were part of the team which went on to discover the super-heavy element 117. This element has been named as Tennessine.

Over the years, people have seen the relativity of periodic table beyond science. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist and writer, wrote a collection of short stories and titled it, “The Periodic Table” in 1975, which was regarded as the best science book ever written by the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 2006. This book consists of Levi’s life stories wrapped in the metaphors of Chemistry. The chapters are named after the elements of the periodic table, where they define his life, shape up his life, and in the end, we realize that the characteristics and properties of these elements can be associated with the various emotions, situations, and scenarios of life.

21st Century Relevance

The genius in Mendeleev acknowledged the fact that there are more elements that can exist and left appropriate gaps in his table which were eventually filled up in the future. This periodic table, can be undoubtedly touted as the greatest achievement in the field of modern sciences, irrespective of the disciplines.

Mendeleev’s attempt to organize the elements paved the way for a global integration, which is beyond the periodic table. The world witnessed Marie Curie become the first female recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of Polonium and Radium, which are 84th and 88th on the periodic table. This opened new doors for female scientists and saw an increase in their number over the years.

The United Nations General Assembly during its 74th Plenary Meeting proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements as it also marks the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev’s table. This gives people the opportunity to reflect upon many aspects of the periodic table, including its history, the role of women in research, global trends and perspectives on science for sustainable development, as well as the social and economic impacts of this field. It just goes on to show how chemistry is inevitable from our lives and hopefully, inspires scientists to unravel more new elements.

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