2019 marks the 150th birthday of the periodic table, one of the most powerful representations of our knowledge of the physical and natural world. Acting as a centerpiece for the unifying language of scientific inquiry, it stands as one of the most important achievements in science; capturing the essence not only of chemistry but also of physics and biology.
A Brief History: In 1669, a German merchant and amateur alchemist Hennig Brand attempted to create a Philosopher’s Stone, an object that supposedly could turn metals into pure gold and grant eternal life. He heated residues from boiled urine, and as the vapor condensed it burst into flames. This became the first scientific discovery of an element, phosphorus. From there, new elements were discovered and patterns unearthed.
The first Periodic Table as we know it came from Mendeleev’s representation of known elements, and a prediction of elements yet to be discovered. But that’s not all that his initial predictions resulted in. Properties such as electromagnetism and radioactivity were introduced, concepts such as the nucleus, electrons, orbitals, protons, neutrons, isotopes, quarks were developed, and theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics were supposed. All of this shapes what we understand about our modern-day Periodic Table.
A Time to Celebrate
As a way to celebrate 150 Years of Dmitri Mendeleev’s Periodic Table at Xinova, we asked our global network to express how significant the Periodic Table has been in their lives. Although the responses were an outpour of genuine passion, mixed with devotion and admiration for the Periodic Table within science, a few selections truly captured its spirit.
In some respects, the study of the Periodic Table explains the story of who we are as people. To think, the same building blocks that create the world are also the same building blocks that create us. This line of thinking draws parallels from the words and thoughts of Naveen Kanam, a Xinova innovator, as he expresses his love affair with the Periodic Table.
“My fascination with our composition – what we are made of – started with the periodic table.”
“Since the time I was a child, I always wondered what we are made of. When I heard the sun was hot because of fusion reactions with hydrogen, I couldn’t believe it! Later I came to find out there is less than 30% of oxygen in the atmosphere. Remarkable! It was through learning about the periodic table, did I realize elements are everywhere. The ozone protects us from harmful UV rays! Our bones are made of calcium! Moving beyond what I could grasp with my senses, my curiosity lead me beyond basic textbook explanations. Naturally, I wanted to delve deeper and understand what lies within each element. It was a sense of wonder that moved me. I remember times when I imagined a nucleus with electrons revolving around it just like planets revolving around the sun. At the time, I would think of removing some electrons from heavy elements to form lighter ones. Little did I know, years later — was I relieved to learn, that’s how nuclear fission works.
I also used to wonder, in the same way, that we are living on a planet, what if there were microorganisms living on elements – sort of like microcosmic universes. It always fascinates me how — for generations, DNA has encoded our traits.
In a way, It feels like we are deeply connected to carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen which are essential elements in living organisms. Our body seems to have also developed a harmony with more inorganic elements like vitamins and minerals. To conclude, understanding elements has been a great source of imagination and scientific understanding for me. Mendeleev’s table outlines a map, that functions as a recipe to do something more with elements be it oxidation or combustion.” – Naveen Kanam
For other people, sometimes it isn’t a sense of self, that describes how the Periodic Table has affected them. Often times what draws people to the Periodic Table and a love of science is their first memory of it. In this response, we hear for the first time how a moments encounter with the Periodic Table induced a feeling worth longing after time and time again that continues to bring Vikram and his brother together.
“The first memory I have of the periodic table is a rather peculiar one. Music has always been an integral part of my life, and everyone in my family is a musician. Naturally, this means that all of us explore a lot of songs. Once, when I was barely ten, my elder brother came up to me and told me that he had something that he wanted to show me. So, I followed him to his room, where he played The Element Song on his computer. Having no idea what the periodic table was, I started laughing because the singer kept saying funny-sounding words in a weird tone. After the song ended, my brother started telling me what the periodic table was, and how everything around us is made up of the ‘funny sounding’ elements. Then, I’m not sure how it happened, but we accidentally edited the song onto a video of a celebrity’s award-winning speech. For some reason, which could have been our imagination, the audio seemed to be completely synchronized with his lip movements. Both of us started laughing hysterically. We kept replaying the video and howling with laughter. Though it wasn’t the ideal way to learn about one of the most important inventions of humankind, it certainly was a memorable one. My brother and I still talk about it every once in awhile, even after ten years, and remember how simple life once used to be. In a world where making memories is an incredible feat in itself, it lifts my heart to see how science can bring people together in its own quaint ways.” – Vikram C
And maybe just sometimes, people think of the Periodic Table only after reflecting on how it is taken for granted, as some of the elements.
“Humans have discovered 118 elements, each more fascinating than the previous one. But some of them have become so commonplace, that we have forgotten how important they are, none more so than oxygen. In science, we all know how important oxygen is, but none of us have ever taken the time to truly appreciate how utterly dependent we are on this gas that made the world everything that it is. Oxygen, a gaseous non-metal from group 16 of the periodic table, is an integral part of our lives. It plays a fundamental part in the metabolism of animals, as it is required for aerobic respiration: a biological process that converts the food we eat into energy. The ozone layer is a sheet of gas in the stratosphere that protects us from the lethal ultraviolet rays in the sun’s radiation. Ozone is an allotrope of oxygen, containing three oxygen molecules. Iron, a metal we use unconditionally every single day, is extracted from its ore using oxygen gas. Oxy-acetylene is a liquid that is used to weld metals together. Every single aspect of our lives is constantly affected by oxygen. All of us have learned how oxygen affects our lives when we were in school. But considering the fact that life as we know it would not have existed if it hadn’t been for the abundance of oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere, it is definitely true that oxygen has not been appreciated enough.” – Vikram C
Perhaps that is why it is only in poetry, can one express in raw emotion what the world and science would be like if there was no periodic table.
There is a tale,
A tale often told,
Where a body so frail
Could stop being old.
Infinite gold and life:
That’s every man’s dream.
My heart is caught in strife,
Greed holds me by the seam”
– Vikram C
An appreciation of science offers us a way to look into our own humanity.
“The Sun has begun its rise in the East, a family of four with the second being the least.
Look around at all you see, everything runs on electricity.
Its golden rays are meant to awaken, from failed experiments we are still unshaken.
Inscribed you will be, timeless messages for generations past you and me.
Changes made at a hundred half, caused society to form a new math.
The future built on these three, in a world of increasing connectivity.
Silver traded for service and good, a system that was well understood.
Created nor destroyed discovery, advancement in precious metals technology.
Reserve of copper put to the test, digital it may come following the rest.
At the center of it will be, home to the origin on the sea.
Setting towards the West, a new perspective for the best.”
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