The Genius of Dmitri Mendeleev

Posted on: February 3rd, 2015 by jwowkdiv1 No Comments

What would a chemistry unit be without spending some time exploring the periodic table of the elements?


Be it a plain black and white chart, or a vibrant colour-coded cupcake manifestation, the unique shape of the periodic table of the elements is forever burned into the collective psyche of Division 1!

And therein lies the genius of the table’s creator, none other than Russian scientist extraordinaire – Dmitri Mendeleev.  Others had previously tried to organize the elements into some sort of rectangular table or chart but Mendeleev was the first to ‘think outside the box’ – quite literally.


During our discussions today, it became apparent that the students struggled to understand that Mendeleev was somehow able to confidently and accurately predict the existence of several elements that had not yet been discovered, and were therefore missing from his famous table.  He accurately predicted the atomic mass, melting point and other properties of complete blanks in his table!

I came up with an analogy that seemed to strike a chord with most… Imagine that you are putting together a puzzle of well-known image – a human face for example.  Imagine that each piece of the puzzle is the same size and shape – just like the rectangular cells of the periodic table.

Face Puzzle

When you have finished the puzzle, you notice that several pieces are missing and from your knowledge of the human face – we have all studied thousands of them in our daily lives – you can easily predict the existence of these missing pieces as well as what these pieces might look like.  In fact, you could most likely create an accurate sketch of each piece.

And this is exactly what Mendeleev was able to do with the missing element cells in his table!  It turns out all of his blanks were eventually filled in, some decades after his death, and all of the missing elements were exactly as he had predicted.

Mendeleev's Table

The question marks indicate the predicted missing elements yet to be discovered.

What better way to ‘own’ your knowledge of the periodic table than to become part of it yourself?  So we created a Division 1 Periodic Table composed of all the unique elements of the class!  The symbols are the students’ initials and each of the four numbers clock-wise from top left represent: age (, favourite/important number, a coded message (A=1, B=2, etc.) and height in metres.

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