Science Historian Gordin Discusses Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, Now Turning 150 Years Old
A century and a half ago, a Russian chemistry professor published a classification of all the known elements, organized by atomic weight. Today, the system that he created for his students — plus some updates and including about twice as many elements — is found in chemistry classrooms around the world.
Now known as the Periodic Table of the Elements, it was first shaped in February 1869 by Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834–1907), then a professor of general chemistry at St. Petersburg University, in the capital of the Russian Empire. The story of the “attempt at a system of elements,” as Mendeleev titled his initial publication, has been laid out clearly by science historian Michael Gordin in a special issue of the journal Science.
Gordin, Princeton’s Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, has said he was drawn to the history of science because of what it can teach scientists and nonscientists alike. He is also the director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and the author of several books, including a 2004 biography of Mendeleev; a second edition was published in December by Princeton University Press.
Photo courtesy of the Humanities Council