A Week to Remember: Mendeleev's Periodic Table | Los Angeles Public Library
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A Week to Remember: Mendeleev's Periodic Table

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Dmitri Mendeleev

On March 6, 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev made a presentation to the Russian Chemical Society in which he presented the first version of his periodic table of the elements. It was not the first such table; other scientists had made attempts to organize the known elements into groups for more than 50 years. But Mendeleev's table was the most complete, and made some important advances over its predecessors. It is the basis for the periodic table that is still in use today. Eric R. Scerri's The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction (print) explains the history of the table, from its pre-Mendeleev beginnings to the present day. Mendeleev on the Periodic Law (e-book) collects several of Mendeleev's essays and journal articles on the arrangement of the elements, written between 1869 and 1905.

Mendeleev organized the elements in his table in order of their atomic weight and grouped them based on similar chemical properties. Only 64 elements were known at the time, and Mendeleev's table left open spaces where he predicted that new elements would be discovered. He specifically predicted the existence and chemical properties of the elements that were later named germanium, gallium, and scandium; all three were isolated by 1886, and their properties were as predicted by Mendeleev. He also correctly observed that there were probably errors in the atomic weights of some elements at the time; tellurium was eventually determined to have a higher atomic weight than iodine, as Mendeleev's table predicted.

There are now 118 known elements, many of them so unstable that they do not exist in nature, and their existence has only been confirmed through creating them in the laboratory. Paul Parsons provides a visual guide to the elements in The Periodic Table (print), and David W. Ball's Great Courses series The Nature of Matter includes a lecture on "The Amazing Periodic Table" (e-audio | video).

In Periodic Tales (e-book | e-audio | print), Hugh Aldersey-Williams looks at the roles that elements play in our culture and our language; Sam Kean offers historical and scientific stories and anecdotes about each element in The Disappearing Spoon (e-book | e-audio | print). And Camille Minichino's Periodic Table Mystery series (e-books | print) is built around a crime-solving physicist whose cases each involve a different element.

Mendeleev's contributions to chemistry did not end with the periodic table – he made important studies in the origin and composition of petroleum, and is credited with introducing the metric system to the Russian Empire – but it is the periodic table for which he will be remembered. Mendeleev has actually been part of the table himself since 1955, when element 101 was synthesized by a team of scientists at University of California, Berkeley. They proposed that it be named "mendelevium."

Also This Week

March 8, 1010

The Persian poet Ferdowsi completed his epic poem The Shahnameh (e-book | print), which mixes myth and history to tell the story of the Persian Empire from the beginning of the world to the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century. The poem consists of 50,000 couplets, and is the longest existing poem composed by a single author. It is one of the central works of Persian literature, and is as easily readable to modern Iranians as the King James Bible is to English readers.

March 12, 1928

Edward Albee was born. Albee was a playwright whose work explored the complexity of marriage and relationships, often with stylistic elements taken from European Absurdist writers. Three of his plays – A Delicate Balance, Seascape, and Three Tall Women – received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A Delicate Balance is the story of a suburban family whose lives are disrupted when a neighbor family asks to stay with them, fearing some unknown terror in their own home. The 1973 film adaptation stars Katharine Hepburn, Paul Scofield, and Lee Remick.

March 8, 1948

Peggy March was born. March is a pop singer, remembered in the United States as a one-hit wonder for her 1963 song "I Will Follow Him." Her career continued in Europe, though, and she was particularly successful in Germany, where she continued to have success until the late 1970s. She continues to perform and has recorded new music as recently as 2012. A variety of March's music is available for streaming or download at Freegal.

March 9 is National Meatball Day

It's hard to find a cuisine that doesn't include some variation on the meatball, and hard to find a type of meat that can't be made into meatballs. They can be cooked in a variety of ways – fried, sauteed, braised, steamed – and made with a variety of seasonings. Two e-books, Daniel Holzman's The Meatball Shop Cookbook and Ellen Brown's The Meatball Cookbook Bible, offer a wide range of meatball recipes.