(Unofficial) Periodic Table Day

It might not be popular as it’s not an official international day, but today, 7th of February, is periodic table day.

There’s always geeks celebrating whatever they obsess over. The National Periodic Table Day Foundation was created with quite a transparent objective. They chose the 7th of February because on that day John Newlands—who invented the periods of the periodic table—published what they consider the first periodic table ever.

TERMCAT's interactive periodic table [source: TERMCAT]

TERMCAT’s interactive periodic table [source: TERMCAT]

On the home page of their web site, the history of the table is told through the contributions of nine (male) chemists. If you prefer a shorter and lighter version of it, revisit my old ramblings about the periodic table.

The celebration this year is specially relevant as a few months ago the four missing elements of period eight were added to the table with their new official names and symbols. Moreover, I took part in the making of a new interactive and fully up-to-date periodic table published last November, which I am very proud of.

Happy Periodic Table Day!

Final names for the new chemical elements

Something that affects me as a chemist and a terminologist has happened. I’m obviously not talking about my sprained wrist after falling off my bike, which forced me to write this post with only my right hand. Yes, that happened, but it affects me many additional parts of my life.

El setè període s'ha completat [imatge©: IUPAC]

The seventh period is complete [image©: IUPAC]

The IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) has officially validated the new names and symbols for the elements that remained unnamed in the seventh period (i.e. line) of the periodic table.

On the 8th of June, the IUPAC presented the names and symbols proposed by the teams that discovered the four elements. Although more about synthesising and characterising rather than discovering nowadays. Five months of revision were required, finishing on the 8th of November, for the IUPAC Council to formally approve them. Note that the approval was made public on the 30th; I’m not the only one with no rush to publish.

The new names and symbols

atomic number
name symbol
113 nihonium Nh
115 moscovium Mc
117 tennessine Ts
118 oganesson Og

The first three names are related to the places of the discovery of the elements. Nihon is a way of pronouncing in Japanese the name of Japan. Moscovium refers to Moscow, the capital city of Russia. And tennessine comes from Tennessee, in the USA. Oganesson, however, honours Yuri Oganessian for his contribution to transactinoid elements research.

Now you know what to call these four elements in your everyday conversations about chemistry. Or, at least, there are some new combinations of letters to obtain a high score playing Scrabble.

Ramblings about the periodic table

[Speech for the Consecutive Interpreting subject, 2007]

Periodic table beer mats.

Dear classmates, I’m going to take the advantage of the centenary of the death of Mendeleev — who must be in hell for laughing at the right theory of one of his contemporary chemists —, I resolved to ramble about the periodic table of the elements. I’m not going to tell the properties of the elements because I don’t want to be cruel to you. I’m going to make a short summary of the story of the table and to do this we’ll go some centuries back to praise those who were right and to expose those who were wrong to ridicule.

It was Democritus, a Greek thinker, who worried about the divisibility of the matter four centuries before Christ. He imagined there existed an indivisible particle, which he decided to call atom with a fine display of originality, since it means indivisible in Greek. But his idea didn’t have a deep effect and in the fifth century Empedocles invented that four elements rubbish — earth, fire, water and wind  —, which mixed to form all the substances of nature. And the great Aristotle put the icing on the cake with the fifth element, which is not a film, but the ether, which was supposed to form the stars.

Two centuries later, with such intellectual scene and as in the land of the blind the one-eyed is the king, the Arabs spread the alchemy during their conquests. But, despite everything, the utopian search for the philosopher’s stone allowed the discovery of hundreds of chemical compounds and some elements. Even so, it was not until the seventeenth century that the praiseworthy chemistry was born.

At the beginning of that century, Döbereiner, a German chemist, noticed that there were some groups of elements with similar properties. Those are what we call groups in the periodic table nowadays. Around mid-century, Newlands, an English chemist, observed that the properties of the elements were the same every eight elements if he sorted them by atomic weight. Newlands invented the periods, but the idea was rejected because it stopped working after the calcium. Finally, in 1869, Meyer and Mendeleev thought — separately — that the different periods could be different in length. Unfortunately for Meyer, Mendeleev published it first and so he is the official author of the current table.

Now the periodic table allows predicting the properties of any element, known or unknown, depending on its place in it. Moreover, these properties tend to change gradually from one end to the other of the table, what makes the analysis and comparison of elements easier. Little scientific systematization can compete with this.

And I want to take this opportunity and my recent and vilely imposed bachelorhood to offer myself to solve your doubts in the bar if any of you, preferably gifted with great kindness and better appeal, is especially interested in the chemical aspects of the table.

Thanks for listening.