February 8, 2016
Dmitri Mendeleev’s 182nd Birthday
Around 400 BC, the ancient Greeks organized the worldly elements into four groups: air, water, earth, and fire. In the seventeenth century, Robert Boyle explained the material world in terms of elements, mixtures, and compounds. And in 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev made sense of the 56 elements known at the time, showing how they related to each other in a distinct pattern. His periodic table let elements fall into "periods" according to atomic mass and valence (the power that determines how they combine).
Scholars had attempted to organize the elements into a table before, but Mendeleev's work extended beyond mere chart-making. Mendeleev used the logic of his table to argue for the existence of yet-to-be discovered elements (like gallium and germanium), and even to predict their behaviors. Some of these predictions were wrong, but the basic principles behind his periodic organization continue to stand at the foundation of modern chemistry. The periodic table of the elements (now with 118 elements and counting) adorns science classrooms worldwide.
In the final illustration, artist Robinson Wood imagines Mendeleev in the act of setting down the logic of his table (which reportedly came to him in a dream). Today, on Mendeleev's 182nd birthday, we celebrate how this visionary helped us order and understand our world.
The Doodle Team’s early explorations for today's illustration highlight (1) the element named after Mendeleev (mendelevium), and (2) the work Mendeleev did at his famous desk (where he was often photographed).