15 Fun and Surprising Facts About the Periodic Table of Elements

From how to make the table "kiss," to its relation to solitaire, here are a few fun facts about the modern periodic table.
Chris Young

Sadly to many people, the periodic table is what they're told to memorize monotonously as school children. But the truth is that this table is an indispensable roadmap for scientists worldwide. 

Here are a few fun, interesting, and also little-known facts about the periodic table, written equally with science enthusiasts and any students studying chemistry in mind.

1. Dmitri Mendeleyev is the inventor of the modern periodic table

Dmitri Mendeleyev presented his periodic table of the elements based on increasing atomic weight on March 6, 1869, at the Russian Chemical Society. 

15 Fun and Surprising Facts About the Periodic Table of Elements
Dmitri Mendeleyev, Source: Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

Though he is often cited as the inventor of the modern periodic table, did you know that his table wasn't the first attempt to organize the elements according to periodic properties? In 1864, Lothar Meyer published a periodic table that described the placement of 28 elements.

2. Scientists used battery polarity to weigh the elements

To determine the weight of each of the 63 known elements at the time, scientists passed currents through several solutions to break them up into the atoms of specific elements.

Batteries were used to separate the atoms — their polarity would make atoms of one element go in one direction and others in another. The atoms were then collected in separate containers and weighed.


3. The periodic table reflects its creator's love for card games

Dmitri Mendeleyev was very fond of card games. That's why he wrote the weight of each element on a separate index card and sorted them as they would be organized in solitaire.

15 Fun and Surprising Facts About the Periodic Table of Elements
Source: Jack Hamilton/Unsplash

Elements with similar properties formed a "suit" and were placed in columns ordered by ascending atomic weight.

4. It was used to correctly predict elements that hadn't been discovered

When Mendeleyev put his original periodic table together, several blank spaces were in it. By estimating their properties relative to other elements near the spaces on the table, Mendeleyev could predict the discovery of a few elements correctly.

He correctly predicted the weights and chemical behaviors of gallium, scandium, and germanium before they were discovered.

5. It was also used to incorrectly deny the existence of certain elements

Despite impressively predicting the existence of a few elements, Mendeleyev also used his table to incorrectly deny the existence of a few other elements after they had been discovered.

He denied the existence of Argon after it was discovered in 1894, as it didn't fit into his columns, and he did the same after discovering helium, neon, krypton, xenon, and radon.

6. The periodic table is periodically revised

The International Union of Pure Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is responsible for maintaining and updating the periodic table if any scientific discoveries call for changes.

The most recent revision of the periodic table was published in December 2018.

7. Technetium was the first artificially produced element

Today, there are 118 confirmed elements in the periodic table - ninety elements are commonly found in nature; others are largely synthetically made. 

Technetium was the first element to be synthesized. It was first produced in 1937. Today 24 other elements are primarily produced synthetically.

8. The modern periodic table is designed in the order of increasing atomic number

Mendeleyev's periodic table was designed in the order of increasing atomic weight while. The modern periodic table has one key difference.

The modern periodic table was designed according to increasing atomic numbers.

9. Four of the elements in the table were only recently named

On 28 November 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry approved the name and symbols for four previously dubbed elements 113, 115, 117, and 118.

The elements were named nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og).

10. The majority of the elements are metals

Almost 75 percent of the periodic table is composed of metals.

15 Fun and Surprising Facts About the Periodic Table of Elements
Source: vubp/Pixabay

Alkali metals, alkaline earth, basic metals, transition metals, lanthanides, and actinides are all groups of metals.

11. Some elements are named after famous scientists, planets, or mythological figures

Einsteinium is named after Albert Einstein, while germanium, americium, and gallium were named after the places where they were discovered. Uranium was named shortly after the discovery of Uranus.

The names of some elements come from mythology. For example, thorium is named after Thor, the Scandinavian god of thunder. Titanium, meanwhile, is named after the Greek Titans.

12. Other elements are given the Greek word that best describes them

Then there are the elements named with the Greek word that best describes its properties. Argon is taken from the Greek word "Argos," meaning “lazy” or “idle.” Bromine, which produces a horrible smell, is accurately named after the Greek word "bromos," meaning 'stench.'

13. Opposites of the table attract

If you take the modern periodic table, cut out the complicated middle columns, and fold it once along the middle of the Group 4 elements, the groups that "kiss" are the ones that can be stably fused together.

These elements have complementary electron structures that will allow for a combination of the two. So romantic.

14. Carbon is king

Carbon atoms from Group 4 can form four covalent bonds with other elements and with themselves. This means that carbon atoms can combine with other carbon atoms to form a wide variety of compounds with a high molecular weight.  It also means that the molecules formed can exist in various three-dimensional structures, including rings and lattices. This flexibility makes them a key molecule in our very existence.

Did you know that we are around 20 percent carbon and that most known compounds contain carbon? It is also the fourth most abundant element in the entire universe.

15. The periodic table might not be able to extend to 137 elements

The physicist Richard Feynman predicted that, if it exists, we will never be able to observe the 137th element.

That's partly because, theoretically, element 137's electrons would orbit at the speed of light. Hypothetically speaking, element 139's electrons would orbit faster than the speed of light, making it impossible given today's scientific knowledge.

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