The modern periodic table

Atomic number and protons

The atomic number of an element was originally just its position on the periodic table. After the discovery of protons, scientists realised that the atomic number of an element is the same as the number of protons in its nucleus.

In the modern periodic table, the elements are arranged according to their atomic number - not their relative atomic mass.

Periodic table with group and period numbers labelledThe modern periodic table

In the periodic table the elements are arranged into:

  • rows, called periods, in order of increasing atomic number
  • vertical columns, called groups, where the elements have similar properties

Metals and non-metals in the table

The metal elements are found on the left hand side of the periodic table, and the non-metal elements are found on the right. Imagine a zig-zag line, starting at B-Al-Si, separating metals from non-metals.

Resolving pair reversals

Mendeleev did not know about isotopes, but their existence is an explanation for pair reversals in his table. The positions of iodine and tellurium were reversed in Mendeleev's table because:

  • iodine has one naturally occurring isotope, iodine-127
  • the most abundant tellurium isotopes are tellurium-128 and tellurium-130

The high relative abundance of these tellurium isotopes gives tellurium the greater relative atomic mass. The atomic number of tellurium is 52 and the atomic number of iodine is 53, so these elements are in the correct order in the modern periodic table.