Tag Archives: Dmitri Mendeleev

Oldest periodic table chart and a new ‘scarcity’ periodic table of elements at University of St. Andrews (Scotland)

The University of St. Andrews kicked off the new year (2019) by announcing the discovery of what’s believed to the world’s oldest periodic table chart. From a January 17, 2019 news item on phys.org

A periodic table chart discovered at the University of St Andrews is thought to be the oldest in the world.

The chart of elements, dating from 1885, was discovered in the University’s School of Chemistry in 2014 by Dr. Alan Aitken during a clear out. The storage area was full of chemicals, equipment and laboratory paraphernalia that had accumulated since the opening of the chemistry department at its current location in 1968. Following months of clearing and sorting the various materials a stash of rolled up teaching charts was discovered. Within the collection was a large, extremely fragile periodic table that flaked upon handling. Suggestions that the discovery may be the earliest surviving example of a classroom periodic table in the world meant the document required urgent attention to be authenticated, repaired and restored.

Courtesy: University of St. Andrews

A January 17, 2019 University of St. Andrews press release, which originated the news item, describes the chart and future plans for it in more detail,

Mendeleev made his famous disclosure on periodicity in 1869, the newly unearthed table was rather similar, but not identical to Mendeleev’s second table of 1871. However, the St Andrews table was clearly an early specimen. The table is annotated in German, and an inscription at the bottom left – ‘Verlag v. Lenoir & Forster, Wien’­ – identifies a scientific printer who operated in Vienna between 1875 and 1888. Another inscription – ‘Lith. von Ant. Hartinger & Sohn, Wien’ – identifies the chart’s lithographer, who died in 1890. Working with the University’s Special Collections team, the University sought advice from a series of international experts. Following further investigations, no earlier lecture chart of the table appears to exist. Professor Eric Scerri, an expert on the history of the periodic table based at the University of California, Los Angeles, dated the table to between 1879 and 1886 based on the represented elements. For example, both gallium and scandium, discovered in 1875 and 1879 respectively, are present, while germanium, discovered in 1886, is not.

In view of the table’s age and emerging uniqueness it was important for the teaching chart to be preserved for future generations. The paper support of the chart was fragile and brittle, its rolled format and heavy linen backing contributed to its poor mechanical condition. To make the chart safe for access and use it received a full conservation treatment. The University’s Special Collections was awarded a funding grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT) for the conservation of the chart in collaboration with private conservator Richard Hawkes (Artworks Conservation). Treatment to the chart included: brushing to remove loose surface dirt and debris, separating the chart from its heavy linen backing, washing the chart in de-ionised water adjusted to a neutral pH with calcium hydroxide to remove the soluble discolouration and some of the acidity, a ‘de-acidification’ treatment by immersion in a bath of magnesium hydrogen carbonate to deposit an alkaline reserve in the paper, and finally repairing tears and losses using a Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste. The funding also allowed production of a full-size facsimile which is now on display in the School of Chemistry. The original periodic table has been rehoused in conservation grade material and is stored in Special Collections’ climate-controlled stores in the University.

A researcher at the University, M Pilar Gil from Special Collections, found an entry in the financial transaction records in the St Andrews archives recording the purchase of an 1885 table by Thomas Purdie from the German catalogue of C Gerhardt (Bonn) for the sum of 3 Marks in October 1888. This was paid from the Class Account and included in the Chemistry Class Expenses for the session 1888-1889. This entry and evidence of purchase by mail order appears to define the provenance of the St Andrews periodic table. It was produced in Vienna in 1885 and was purchased by Purdie in 1888. Purdie was professor of Chemistry from 1884 until his retirement in 1909. This in itself is not so remarkable, a new professor setting up in a new position would want the latest research and teaching materials. Purdie’s appointment was a step-change in experimental research at St Andrews. The previous incumbents had been mineralogists, whereas Purdie had been influenced by the substantial growth that was taking place in organic chemistry at that time. What is remarkable however is that this table appears to be the only surviving one from this period across Europe. The University is keen to know if there are others out there that are close in age or even predate the St Andrews table.

Professor David O’Hagan, recent ex-Head of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, said: “The discovery of the world’s oldest classroom periodic table at the University of St Andrews is remarkable. The table will be available for research and display at the University and we have a number of events planned in 2019, which has been designated international year of the periodic table by the United Nations, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the table’s creation by Dmitri Mendeleev.”

Gabriel Sewell, Head of Special Collections, University of St Andrews, added: “We are delighted that we now know when the oldest known periodic table chart came to St Andrews to be used in teaching.  Thanks to the generosity of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the table has been preserved for current and future generations to enjoy and we look forward to making it accessible to all.”

They’ve timed their announcement very well since it’s UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019). My January 8, 2019 posting offers more information and links about the upcoming festivities. By the way, this year is also the table’s 150th anniversary.

Getting back to Scotland, scientists there have created a special Periodic Table of Elements charting ‘element scarcity’, according to a January 22, 2019 University of St. Andrews press release,

Scientists from the University of St Andrews have developed a unique periodic table which highlights the scarcity of elements used in everyday devices such as smart phones and TVs.

Chemical elements which make up mobile phones are included on an ‘endangered list’ in the landmark version of the periodic table to mark its 150th anniversary. Around ten million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone. The European Chemical Society (EuChemS), which represents more than 160,000 chemists, has developed the unique periodic table to highlight both the remaining availability of all 90 elements and their vulnerability.

The unique updated periodic table will be launched at the European Parliament today (Tuesday 22 January), by British MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody. The event will also highlight the recent discovery of the oldest known wallchart of the Periodic Table, discovered last year at the University of St Andrews.

Smartphones are made up of around 30 elements, over half of which give cause for concern in the years to come because of increasing scarcity – whether because of limited supplies, their location in conflict areas, or our incapacity to fully recycle them.

With finite resources being used up so fast, EuChemS Vice-President and Emeritus Professor in Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, Professor David Cole-Hamilton, has questioned the trend for replacing mobile phones every two years, urging users to recycle old phones correctly. EuChemS wants a greater recognition of the risk to the lifespan of elements, and the need to support better recycling practices and a true circular economy.

Professor David Cole-Hamilton said: “It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements.

“There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

“Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?”

Catherine Stihler, Labour MEP for Scotland and former Rector of the University of St Andrews, said: “As we mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, it’s fascinating to see it updated for the 21st century.

“But it’s also deeply worrying to see how many elements are on the endangered list, including those which make up mobile phones.

“It is a lesson to us all to care for the world around us, as these naturally-occurring elements won’t last forever unless we increase global recycling rates and governments introduce a genuine circular economy.”

Pilar Goya, EuChemS President, said: “For EuChemS, the supranational organisation representing more than 160,000 chemists from different European countries, the celebration of the International Year of the Periodic Table is a great opportunity to communicate the crucial role of chemistry in overcoming the challenges society will be facing in the near future.”

The new Periodic Table can be viewed online.

‘The Periodic Table and us: its history, meaning and element scarcity’ takes place at The European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium on 22 January 2019. The two-hour session features speakers from the chemical sciences as well as representatives from the European Parliament and the European Commission.

This year (2019) is the United Nations International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) and the 150th anniversary of scientist Dmitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the periodic system as we now know it. Natalia Tarasova, Past-President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), will present the IYPT2019.

The Periodic Table of chemical elements is one of the most significant scientific achievements and is today one of the best-known symbols of science, recognised and studied by people around the globe.

EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, coordinates the work of 48 chemical societies and other chemistry related organisations, representing more than 160,000 chemists. Through the promotion of chemistry and by providing expert and scientific advice, EuChemS aims to take part in solving today’s major societal challenges.

Here’s what the ‘new’ periodic table looks like:

Courtesy: University of St. Andrews and EuChemS

A few minutes on the fabulousness of the periodic table of elements

I love the periodic table of elements and thought I was alone in my appreciation. I kept the secret close to me right into adulthood where I received quite a shock. It turns out I’m not alone and many, many others are just interested, if not downright obsessed.

In her Feb. 7, 2012 posting for the Guardian Science blogs, GrrlScientist profiles a new book about the periodic table of elements (The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction by University of California at Los Angeles lecturer and writer Eric Scerri). From the posting,

… we are introduced to an interesting cast of international characters, including physicists, chemists, geologists, teachers, tradesmen and nobleman, all who played a role in the discovery and evolution of the periodic table. Notably, we meet Scottish physician, William Prout, whose proposal that all matter was composed of hydrogen atoms motivated the scientists of the day to obtain ever more accurate weights for each atom in their quest to prove whether his hypothesis was correct. We meet Danish-American eccentric, Gustavus Hinrichs, who saw the connection between the frequencies of spectra emitted by the elements and the internal structures of their atoms. We also meet German physical chemist, Julius Lothar Meyer, who is considered by some historians to be the co-discoverer of the periodic table, along with the Russian scientist, Dimitri Mendeleev, who sketched out his periodic table on the back of an invitation to a local cheese factory.

This isn’t the only recent book about the periodic table of elements. Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements published in 2010 was mentioned in my July 15, 2010 posting. In that posting I also mentioned and rhapsodized about a visual reworking of the periodic table of elements by Philip Stewart into something he called The Chemical Galaxy.

I see you can now purchase the poster through The Chemical Galaxy store but you can also order it from the Science Mall. At the time I purchased the poster, the Science Mall was the only option for someone in North America and I had a very good experience with them. Here’s what the poster looks like,

The Chemical Galaxy by Philip Stewart

Unfortunately, this image is too small to offer much detail but The Chemical Galaxy website does offer a larger version. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite convey the sheer gorgeousness of Stewart’s visualization.

For those who prefer a more musical approach, here’s Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) singing ‘The Elements’ song (originally written and performed by Tom Lehrer)

I look forward to reading the new book once I shoehorn it into my schedule. Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally write that suite of poems based on the elements in the periodic table.

Touching Mendeleev’s business card

The folks at the Periodic Table of Videos (University of Nottingham) strike again. Videographer, Brady Haran, writes about his latest project for the group in a Dec. 7, 2011 posting on the Guardian science blogs,

Dmitri Mendeleev has an almost god-like status in the pantheon of science. Many people probably picture the creator of the earliest version of the periodic table as a bearded genius hunched over papers and textbooks.

In his native Russia, the legend is if anything even greater. There the periodic table is widely known as “The Table of Mendeleev” and his image has been immortalised in everything from stamps to statues.

Mendeleev is unquestionably on the scientific A-list, despite being famously snubbed by the Nobel prize committee in the early 1900s. But like all great figures from history, we occasionally get to see past the legend. We hear a story or glimpse an object that betrays a comforting level of normality.

The object of normality is a business card. Here’s a video Haran and Prof. Martyn Poliakoff made about the card and Mendeleev,

I love the way the envelope containing the business cards (one offering an introduction to another scientist and one being included as a business card) was addressed to London, Professor Thorpe, Fellow of the Royal Society. No street address, no country, nothing—just a city, a name, and an association. (I did find it surprising that Poliakoff was allowed to touch the materials with his bare hands rather than using protective gloves.) Here’s an image of the envelope,

Envelope addressed by Mendeleev to 'Monsieur le Professeur Thorpe' at the Royal Society. Photograph: The Periodic Table of Videos

Haran’s posting features images of the business card and Mendeleev and another video, this one about Ernest Rutherford’s childhood potato masher.

Canadian helps to revise periodic table of elements

A professor (Michael Wieser) at the University of Calgary is making a bit of a splash, so to speak, with his contributions to the changes being made to the periodic table of elements. According to the Dec. 15, 2010 news item on the CBC News website,

Science’s ubiquitous periodic table of the elements is getting a fresh face courtesy of a team led by an Alberta researcher.

As part of the revamp, the atomic weights of at least 10 elements — among them oxygen, carbon and nitrogen — are to be restated, said Michael Wiesner [sic], an associate professor at the University of Calgary.

The update is meant to better reflect how the elements vary in the natural world.

To start with, an international group of scientists will restate the weights of 10 elements, classifying them as a low and a high, known as an interval. The interval varies depending on where the elements are found in nature.

“These are the 10 where we’ve completed the review,” Wieser said on Tuesday. “There’s another series we’re working on right now.”

Apparently, this is the first revision of this type (there have been many additions and moves) to the table since it was developed in 1869 by Mendeleev. (The table is attributed to Dmitri Mendeleev although the history of its development is a little more complicated than I have time for here. Sam Kean’s book, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, goes into more detail about it all.)

The implications of these 2010 changes are quite interesting,

Wiesner [sic], who is secretary of the Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Weights for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, has co-authored a paper outlining the revisions in the journal Pure and Applied Chemistry.

“People have used atomic weight data to look at nuclear processes occurring in the solar system … we can say something about the formation of the solar system and the planets,” he said.

“People are probably comfortable with having a single value for the atomic weight, but that is not the reality for our natural world.

As noted in the Dec. 15, 2010 news item on physorg.com, an impact will be felt in the classrooms,

“Though this change offers significant benefits in the understanding of chemistry, one can imagine the challenge now to educators and students who will have to select a single value out of an interval when doing chemistry calculations,” says Dr. Fabienne Meyers, associate director of IUPAC.

Not all elements will undergo changes (from physorg.com),

Elements with only one stable isotope do not exhibit variations in their atomic weights. For example, the standard atomic weights for fluorine, aluminum, sodium and gold are constant, and their values are known to better than six decimal places.

I think someone got a little overexcited about this,

For the first time in history, a change will be made to the atomic weights of some elements listed on the Periodic table of the chemical elements posted on walls of chemistry classrooms and on the inside covers of chemistry textbooks worldwide. [emphasis mine]

The periodic table of elements is an intellectual construct which was developed in the mid-19 century. For me and most folks, science provides our best guesses but very rarely any certainties. Gravity is a law of physics at the macro level (unless someone manages to prove differently) but when you’re talking about the quantum world, we believe and it seems to be true, experimentally, that a whole other set of rules apply.