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Chemistry in the making

Updated Wednesday, 7th September 2011

Dr Mike Bullivant looks at Mendeleev's first draft of the Periodic Table

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Dr Mike Bullivant

“Tiger, tiger burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

This is a copy of the first draft of William Blake’s poem, The Tiger.  It’s exciting because you can actually see the poet at work.  You can sense how he’s struggling for the right word, replacing, improving, iterating, but most of all creating something that didn’t exist before.  So, what’s this got to do with chemistry? 

Well, 50 years after Blake we’ve got the work of a Russian chemist, Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev.  This is the first ever draft of his periodic table.  This is chemistry in the making.  But it’s a different sort of creation; identifying families of chemical elements that share similar properties.  It even predicted the existence and the properties of elements that had yet to be discovered.  Oh, it takes its time to get right just like ‘The Tiger’.  In each of the crossings out in the elements being moved from place to place we see a living piece of work, an act of creation, a human mind at play.



To learn more, use our interactive Elements of the Periodic Table tool to find out how the chemical elements impact on our bodies, the world around us and see how they changed history




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