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‘Twas the Night Before the Periodic Table

 

‘Twas a night in St Petersburg, when all through the house,

Not a beaker was stirring, and the burners were doused.

The acids and bases were corked up with care,

Awaiting tomorrow’s experiments in pristine glassware.

The lab assistants were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of tenured positions danced in their heads.

And wrapped up in blankets offering Baltic winter insulation,

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was beginning a long hibernation.

When a spark of historical genius arrived in a dream –

A rare human glimpse at nature unseen!

 

With the “aha!” moment, he awoke from his slumbers

And scrambled to write down the neat rows and numbers.

See, in this (apocryphal?) telling, the discovery was quick;

In just a few minutes he made it all click.

For his mind had been filled but needed some rest,

After three long days of puzzling away at his desk.

And as the moonlight shone on fresh snow outside,

Mendeleev arranged both halogen and halide.

Then, from his invigorated brain did appear,

A place for the alkali metals – it was finally clear!

 

“Now lithium! Now sodium! Now potassium and rubidium!

On beryllium! On magnesium! On titanium on zirconium!

From the hydrogen on top to the lead at the base,

Mendeleev devised a system where they all had a place.

And when his pattern left a gap in the chart,

He didn’t despair or tear it apart.

The great chemist reasoned these holes simply implied

That another element was out there, just not yet classified.

 

In the years that followed, we added so many more,

(Berkeley Lab found 16 – but who’s keeping score?)

And the order and structure saw such constant upheaval,

That today, Mendeleev’s first version is bizarre to most people.

Yet despite all the flaws in his reverie-fueled revelations,

Science lovers laud what was built on his work’s foundations,

So, for the 150th anniversary, we went all in for glory,

A twelve-month homage through art, song, and story.

 

But the year’s wrapping up and there’s not much left to write –

Other than Happy International Year of the Periodic Table to all, and to all a goodnight!

 

“I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.”

– Dmitri Mendeleev, on how he devised his first version of a periodic table on February 17, 1869.

On that day, he was in the process of writing his book, Fundamentals of Chemistry, and had just finished writing two chapters about the alkali metals. But he had, reportedly, then gotten stuck trying to decide which group of elements he should cover next – as he wanted to choose the group with properties similar to the metals. To decide how to order his book, Mendeleev thought it was necessary to find some general principle(s) of nature by which the elements could be arranged in their groups in a definite order.