The development of the Periodic Table (pre-16)

Introduction

Ask most chemists who discovered the Periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmtri Mendeleev. Certainly Mendeleev was the first to publish a version of the Table that we would recognise today but does he deserve all the credit? What would have happened without Mendeleev, and is it really appropriate to use the word discovered?

No one can give definitive answers to these questions but it is certainly true that a number of other chemists before Mendeleev were investigating patterns in the properties of the elements that were known at the time and it is surely true that had Mendeleev never lived modern chemists would be using a Periodic Table.

This material looks at the work of other chemists such as John Newlands, Lothar Meyer and Alexandre-Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois as well as Mendeleev himself in developing the Periodic Table.

You may find other spellings of Mendelev’s name, Mendeleyev, Mendelejeff, Mendeleeff or Mendelayev, for example. There is no ‘correct’ spelling in English because the Mendeleev himself would have spelt it using the Russian (cyrillic) alphabet.

Some scientists, and many science fiction writers, have speculated that the Periodic Table might be the basis of communication with an alien civilisation if the human race were ever to meet one. If we make the reasonable assumption that the properties of the elements are the same everywhere in the universe, then it seems inevitable that a technologically advanced race would have their own version of the Periodic Table which would contain the same information as ours (even if expressed very differently).