Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
Wayne Roberts © 2003-2008  

Mendeleev's genius - the Periodic Table of the Elements

Dmitri Mendeleev, in 1869, made simple what was once considered complex and idiosyncratic—the chemistry of the elements. He is the father of the now-famous Periodic Table of the Elements.

In my view, two key qualities as a scientist led him to his first formulation of the Periodic Table of the Elements:

  • He acted on the assumption that there existed 'a rhyme and a reason' (a pattern) behind the apparently chaotic phenomena of Nature (this has been common to nearly all the great advances in science).
  • When he found what he felt was sufficient evidence to strongly support (yet not prove) his hypothesis and the emerging pattern that he had discovered he persisted in its study even when he found an apparent discrepancy (in this case, an element that didn't fit the next vacancy in his 'tabular arrangement'). Rather than dismiss the pattern immediately as merely a flukey coincidence, he paused to consider another more beguiling (yet entirely plausible) possibility: a missing or unknown element that would precisely fit the (vacant) chemical position in his tabular arrangement in terms of atomic weight and chemical properties.

    This was his genius and it entailed a belief in the power of patterns and connections between and among things, and this ought to inspire every scientist and thinker—to look and wonder just that little bit longer.... In fact, it was not long before his faith and searching was rewarded.

    His Periodic Table logically arranged the then-known elements into rows of ascending atomic weight and also into columns of elements of like-properties, and in this way the Table played its own kind of music on its own kind of 'scale', possessing a charmed predictive power instrumental in assisting researchers to discover new elements that soon filled his Table's gaps like missing pieces of a jig-saw puzzle.
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