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The Past and Future of the Periodic Table

This stalwart symbol of the field of chemistry always faces scrutiny and debate

Eric R. Scerri

Figure%201.%20Periodic%20table%20museum%20displayClick to Enlarge ImageThe year 2007 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev. Best known as the leading discoverer of the periodic system, Mendeleev was one of many early 19th-century chemists exploring the relationships between elements. Contrary to the common perception that Mendeleev's table settled the matter, save for the additon of new elements, the organization of elements continues to be a topic of considerable discussion among both chemists and philosophers of science. The author, a chemist himself, details some of the developments—including inspirational mistakes—that led to the understanding of atomic numbers and the current classification system. He also explores new ways that elements can be sorted and what the implications of these arrangements might be.


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