August 15, 2007

In which our hero reveals - yet again - his dorky side

I've got a thing for the periodic table.

It's nothing freaky and weird, nothing unhealthy or marriage-risking. It's not like I curl up next to an inflatable periodic table each night or anything.

It's just that I dig the periodic table in all its myriad forms.

Each year, I kick off my chemistry classes with a unit about the periodic table. It used to be a larger unit before the preceeding course started covering more chemistry than they had before, but it's still something that I like to begin with because so much of our chemical information comes from the simple discovery of the periodic law by Dmitri Mendeleev. (If you want to know more about the discovery itself, check out the amazingly thorough but sadly boring book Mendelyev's Dream or a more succinct article here.)

Today's post, however, isn't about how the periodic table works but rather just how cool it is that loads of chemists have looked at the same information, the same hundred and some elements and come up with such amazingly different ways to show the relationships.

There's the typical one that most everybody sees in their chemistry class, but it turns out that even that one is only typical here in the US because our paper fits the right proportions for it. A lot of other countries show the same table in a different arrangment because it fits their paper better (all it does is move those bottom two rows up into the tan rows shown below)
But the rectangular arrangments - stretched or not - just isn't good enough for a lot of chemists. They want some sort of spiral arrangement, showing that the end of each row connects right into the beginning of the next. The most attractive edition of that maps the elements onto a spiral galaxy and is shown at the top of this post. It's also available for purchase here. The spiral folks have all sorts of disciples as seen in Edgar Longman's 1951 mural or Prof Benfey's lumpy spiral or on or even on

Lots of people even take the periodic law into the third dimension with chemical helixes, Alexander Arrangements, elementouch, and even a wooden model that I can't find right now.

And of course there are the periodic tables that don't add much to the study of chemistry but are all about the love.

There's the periodic table of the elephants (which you can buy as a poster here) that began as a class project and grew into something a little larger.

Theodore Gray also has a thing for periodic tables as evidenced by his amazing collection of elements which he has photographed and turned into a beautiful poster, a very cool wooden table, and a neat plexiglass version, too.

I even found a cake version of the table. So tasty...

And I'm not even going to get into the various "periodic table(s) of" that make periodic table-shaped posters of everything from vegetables and desserts to sexual positions (I'm not linking to that one or displaying it in the classroom, thanks for asking) and cupcakes. Those aren't really periodic in any way and are just made for the cash. They're just sad, really.

But I do kind of dig the Kansas version of the table.

Many thanks to Chemogenesis for the help with research in this post.


achilles3 said...

can't lie...I have always had a major crush on the periodic table. and the kansas one is priceless!

8 DAMN letters for f ing word verification SUX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PHSChemGuy said...

I do think the word verification is getting harder...

There was an article in a recent Wired that talked about using word verifications to identify hard-to-read words that Google scanned in from their project to digitize university libraries to make them searchable.

For example, if the computer doing the word ID from the scanned works can't figure out a word, it makes that word into a word verification tag. The computer then waits for four people to get that tag and verify it identically. If four people id the word correctly, that becomes the word in the new digital document.


I'll see if I can hunt down the article.