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History: Dimitri Mendeleev

Photo of Dimitri Mendeleev

Core Concepts

In this article you will learn about the life of Dimitri Mendeleev and his contributions to the field of chemistry.

Mendeleev’s Childhood

In 1834 in Tobolsk, Russia famous scientist Dimitri Mendeleev was born. Mendeleev was the youngest of 12 children. As a child he faced different obstacles: a blind father and the loss of his families business, which left his family to live in poverty. Regardless of his home life Mendeleev’s father was determined on making sure his son received an education. They traveled to the capital of Russia, Moscow, to seek out an education for their son. Only a few days after beginning his new life as a student. Mendeleev’s mother died of tuberculosis. Soon after his mother’s death he graduated in 1855.

Dmitri Mendeleev photo

Professor Mendeleev

After a short span of research in Europe in organic chemistry, Dimitri Mendeleev began his career as a teacher at the Technical Institute of St. Petersburg. The young professor made a name for himself as an eccentric educator. As he continued his term teaching he realized that there was no textbook on modern contemporary organic chemistry, so he wrote his own. Dimitri Mendeleev’s textbook on organic chemistry was the world’s most leading and informative text on the subject in 1861.

Although his new textbook on organic chemistry was authoritative in the field of science, the information inside only applied to those who could truly understand it. Many of Mendeleev’s students struggled to understand and follow his lectures. He knew people’s struggle to understand the chemistry was because there was no finite system for classifying the elements. Without this, he was only able to teach specific information on the building blocks of these elements, but had nothing that would explain the relationship between these substances.

Dimitri Mendeleev and Inorganic Chemistry

To begin the resolution on the ill framework of elemental organization, Dimitri Mendeleev began writing Principles of Chemistry. His goal was to organize and explain the elements. His system began with elements like: hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. He than added the halogens, and used atomic weight as the basis of his organization. After studying the alkaline earth metals, Mendeleev realized that atomic weights alone could not be the basis of his organizational strategies.

The Invention of the Periodic Table

Historians who have studied Mendeleev’s life have said that he was inspired by the American card game solitaire. So he made up a set of cards for all of the known 63 elements of the time. Mendeleev spent many restless nights arranging and rearranging these cards in different orders, patterns, and sequences until he identified gaps in the order of atomic mass. After a dream Mendeleev had where he envisioned what we know call the “periodic table of elements,” Dimitri Mendeleev had discovered what is known as periodic law. When Mendeleev moved the elements in an order of increasing mass each of the elements properties began to repeat themselves periodically. His system of organization became known as the periodic table.

Chemtalk periodic table

The System of Organization

As we know now Dimitri Mendeleev did not base his model of the periodic table strictly on atomic mass, he moved some of the elements out of order. If we look on the periodic table some of the elements are not in mass order. Unbeknownst to Mendeleev he placed the elements in order of increasing atomic number. He than used his findings and his new “periodic table” to predict properties of some elements that hadn’t been discovered yet but he knew had existed. Mendeleev would leave gaps in his table. When a triangle grouping of blanks would form Mendeleev was able to guess the elements atomic mass and number. This periodic table is arranged in a variety of rows called periods and groups. This systematic approach of organization shows different sets of relationships when the table is read from left to right and top to bottom. Each element on the periodic table presents its own qualities and characteristics. That’s why some people devote their entire lives studying one element.

The Completion of the Periodic Table

Even though Mendeleev invented his version of the periodic table in the late 19th century, his invention did not have an immediate impact on the chemistry fields. After Dimitri Mendeleev’s discovery of gallium in 1875 using his newly found periodic table his invention gained some credibility. The periodic table was so-useful because it provided so much room for growth and discovery. Specifically in the finding of new elements. In the late 1800s a new group of elements was added to the periodic table, the noble gases. In 2012 the periodic table contained 118 different elements.

Mendeleev’s Other Scientific Discoveries

Although Dimitri Mendeleev is best known for his discovery of periodic law, his contributions to science are quite diverse. He made generous contributions in the field of physical chemistry. He made prominent discoveries in his career that focused on gases in liquids.

Donnell Greene