Mendeleev's periodic table

Early attempts to classify elements

Before discovering protons, neutrons and electrons, scientists tried to classify the elements by arranging them in order of their atomic weights. The atomic weight of an element is equivalent to what we now call its relative atomic mass.

Early periodic tables were incomplete, since many elements were unknown. Also, some elements were placed in groups with elements that were not similar to them.

Dmitri Mendeleev

Dmitri Mendeleev was a Russian chemist. He wrote chemistry books and was looking for ways to organise the known elements. He published his first periodic table of the elements in 1869. In it, he arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weights. He also took into account the properties of the elements and their compounds. This meant that his table:

  • had gaps in it
  • showed elements with similar chemical properties lined up in groups

However, from their atomic weights, some pairs of elements next to each other were in the wrong order.

Predictions using gaps

Mendeleev left gaps in his table for elements not known at the time. By looking at the properties of the elements next to a gap, he could also predict the properties of these undiscovered elements. For example, Mendeleev predicted the existence of 'eka-silicon', which would fit into a gap below silicon. Another scientist later discovered the missing element, germanium. Its properties were found to be similar to the predicted ones and confirmed Mendeleev's periodic table.

Pair reversals

Iodine has a lower atomic weight than tellurium. So iodine should be placed before tellurium in Mendeleev's periodic table. However, iodine has similar chemical properties to chlorine and bromine. To make iodine line up with chlorine and bromine in his table, Mendeleev swapped the positions of iodine and tellurium.

Six rows, eight columns showing H, Li, Be, B, C, N, O, F. Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, K,  Ca, Ti, V, Cr. Fe, Co, Ni and Cu. (Cu), Zn, As, So, B,  Rb, Sr, Yt, Zr, Nb, Mo, Ru. Rh, Pd and Ag.