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The Periodic Table

January 11, 2012

This should probably have been posted before Hydrogen but, uhm, well, anyway, its here now.

The Periodic Table was first conceived as a whole in 1869 by Mendeleev (youngest of 14, formulated state standards for the production of vodka and didn’t believe in atoms). Many people before Mendeleev had attempted to arrange the elements in some kind of order with varying degrees of success. Mendeleev’s genius was to arrange the elements systematically by weight to highlight similarities between some of the elements. A regular pattern emerged and this was so compelling that Mendeleev was able to leave gaps in his table where he expected new elements to be discovered. To the astonishment of his fellow scientists he also predicted the physical properties of these elements based on their position in his newly formulated table and he was proved correct.

Since Mendeleev there have been many versions of the periodic table, three dimensional versions, spiral versions and then the table we are all now familiar with – a castle with unequal turrets at each end. The 118 bricks of the castle are the elements, each unique and with its own story to tell.

The Periodic Table

To me the periodic table is like a family photograph carefully arranged to show the relationships of all its members. It includes the traditional and the disfunctional members of an extended family; many get along well, others are disdainful and snobbish and yet others react violently to each other. Each individual element has a character of its own dictating how it will interact with other members of the family. The position of any particular element in the table tells you a lot about it’s personality and that of its relatives.

Elements that are very similar to each other (descendants) are held in columns called groups and there are 18 in total counting from left to right.  Elements in adjacent groups are more like cousins. There are four ‘blocks’ similar to a group of relatives that share a family name (s- groups 1 and 2; d – groups 3 to 12; p – 13 to 18; f – the lanthanide and actinide rows at the bottom of the table).

All families have their personality traits and the family of elements is no different.

Noble Gases (group 18)

Cool and aloof or snobbish and antisocial. They resist all attempts to interact with any other elements.

Lanthanides/Actinides (f-block)

A boisterous bunch of siblings that all look alike.

Transition Metals (d-block)

Loud and brash, colourful and charismatic. Like the aunt or uncle in the bit too bright clothes who laughs a bit too loud a bit too long. Lovely to be around, impossible to ignore.

Alkali Metals and Alkaline Earth Metals (s-block)

Generous to a fault but can be fiery if they mix with the wrong group.

Halogens (group 17)

Selfish and picky. They like to get their own way.

As with every geeky chemist I have my favourite element but they are all have an interesting story. Next on the blogpost will be Helium – I will try and write it in a high pitched squeaky voice.


Images and animation by @SciCommStudios


From → A Periodic Tale, Blog

  1. Tim permalink

    I just found your blog and hope you keep up with the posts all the way until 118.

    Do we get to know the secret identity of your favorite element or will that be revealed when its turn comes?

    • I was thinking of aiming for the 92 naturally occurring elements and see how it goes. You’ll have to wait to find out my favourite though.

  2. Rebecca R. Adcock permalink

    Came across your blog and was working on a project relating personality traits to the periodic table families. Can you give me a good way to relate the metaloids to human personality traits as well as the other metals and other non-metals not listed. I really liked what you did for the other groups and just thought you may have some great ideas about the remaining sections of the periodic table.

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