Dmitri Mendeleyev: Dreaming Up the Periodic Table

Dmitri Mendeleyev is the Russian scientist who created the periodic table of the elements. In 2009, in honor of the 175th anniversary of Mendeleyev’s birthday, Russia issued a souvenir sheet featuring a single 15 ruble stamp. The attractive commemorative souvenir sheet would be a nice fit for a science topical (thematic) stamp collection. Collectors of inventors on stamps and general Russia collectors will also want to consider adding the sheet to their collections.

It was in 1869 that Mendeleyev produced the table we all remember from chemistry classes. He had been working for a long time with the idea that there was an order to all the elements, that they could be grouped and organized. He had made up a deck of cards, each one with an element on it. He would move the cards around, searching for the order he knew was there. The story is that he fell asleep as he was puzzling over the problem and the answer, that elements can be organized by atomic weights and mass, came to him in a dream while he slept.

An important aspect of his discovery was that the properties of the elements could be predicted from their location in the table. All scientists at the time did not accept this predictability as fact. However, his theory was proven later when predictions he made about the properties of “missing elements” turned out to be accurate once the “new” elements (aluminum, boron, silicon) were discovered.

Mendeleyev was born in Siberia on February 7, 1834. His father died when he was young and his mother, needing to support her children, a large group of which Mendeleyev was the youngest, took over the management of her family’s glass factory.

Mendeleyev was an interested, curious child and would spend time at the glass factory talking to the chemist from whom he learned the science behind making glass.

The glass factory was destroyed in a fire when Mendeleyev was 14. Despite the resulting family financial difficulties he was able to go to Main Pedagogical Institute on scholarships. Although his studies were interrupted when he contracted tuberculosis, he moved to the Crimean Peninsula, recovered his health, and went back to Saint Petersburg to finish his education. He became a professor at Saint Petersburg Technical Institute (1864) and Saint Petersburg State University (1865) and in 1865 became a Doctor of Science. Saint Petersburg became an important center of research in chemistry.

Mendeleyev also studied petroleum and helped establish the first oil refinery in Russia. His work was so important that universities, academies, and scientific societies of many countries honored him with awards and memberships. Element number 101, mendelevium, is named for him. He died in 1907.




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