I give full credit for this to Abbas Raza of 3 Quarks Daily. What a great blog site!
Rusty Rockets in Scienceagogo:
Despite the periodic table’s ubiquitous presence, how many people would have known what polonium (Po) was prior to the media circus surrounding the poisoning of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko? The periodic table, which has symbolized chemistry ever since its controversial conception during the 1860s is largely thought of as a fixed reference work, but the table is yet to be completed, and some lucky scientists’ careers involve running high-energy tests to fill in the gaps and perhaps catch a glimpse of the table’s ultimate limits.
To UCLA chemist and historian Eric Scerri, author of the recently published The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance, the periodic table symbolizes and encapsulates the whole field of chemistry. “It is completely unique in science. Chemistry is the only field with one simple chart that embodies the essence of the field. This wonderful tool serves to organize the whole of chemistry,” he says. So while Dmitri Mendeleyev will always be known as the man who “invented” the periodic table, it’s perhaps fitting that the table was actually the brainchild of six independent scientists.
The Periodic Table
Dmitri Mendeleyev (pictured) is widely credited with inventing the periodic table, but as science historian John Gribbin says; “The story of the discovery (or invention) of the periodic table is a curious mixture, highlighting the way in which, when the time is ripe, the same scientific discovery is likely to be made by several people independently, but also demonstrating the common reluctance of the old guard to accept new ideas.”
Incredibly, both English industrial chemist John Newlands and French mineralologist Alexander Beguyer de Chancourtois both cottoned on to the idea that arranging the elements according to their atomic weight produced a repeating pattern. They found that elements separated by atomic weights that are multiples of 8-times the atomic weight of hydrogen had similar properties. But despite what seemed to be an amazing simultaneous discovery, papers from both scientists were ridiculed when published.
So, this must be the part where Mendeleyev picks up the pieces and successfully runs with the idea, right? Well, as it happens, no. As Gribbin says; “Mendeleyev was not even the third person to come up with the idea of the periodic table.” The third contender was German chemist and physician Lothar Meyer, who apparently lacked confidence in his radical idea regarding the relationship between the property of a chemical element and its atomic weight. Gribbin says that by the time Meyer got around to doing something with his idea, it was too late. Mendeleyev had finally made his way onto the stage and presented his own version of the periodic table, apparently blissfully unaware of all previous efforts made during the 1860s.
While there may have been a few sour grapes, Meyer admired the “chutzpah” that Mendeleyev exhibited in going that extra mile by leaving gaps in the table to be filled by as yet unidentified elements.