Posted on January 27, 2016
As I did when writing about James Watt, I am going to wish Dmitri Mendeleev a happy birthday on the date he actually used: January 27. But Mendeleev was born on this date in Russia, in 1834...so this date is O.S. (Old Style).
Many encyclopedias report his birthday as the New Style date of February 8. 1834. (Russia didn't switch to the "New Style" Gregorian calendar until 1918, about 11 years after Mendeleev died.)
Mendeleev was born in a village in Siberia. His father was a teacher of fine arts, politics, and philosophy – but unfortunately he went blind and lost his teaching position. The family became shaky, financially speaking, and Mendeleev's mother restarted her family's abandoned glass factory. However, more bad luck plagued the family: Mendeleev's father died, and the glass factory burned down.
I'm not sure what happened to all of Mendeleev's siblings – he had either 10, 12, 13, or 16 brothers and sisters, depending on what source you consult! – but Mendeleev was the youngest, and Wikipedia reports that his mother crossed the entire country to Moscow and then St. Petersburg to seek a university education for her youngest son. Although the family was by then quite poor, Mendeleev was able to get an education and became a chemist.
His biggest contribution to scientific knowledge was his arrangement of the elements in a periodic table – the one we use to this day (although of course expanded with newly discovered elements).
Mendeleev also used his periodic table to correct the properties of already known elements and to predict the properties of eight elements that had not yet been discovered!
Mendeleev was not the first scientist to notice the patterns of the elements' properties – properties such as boiling point, color, ability to transmit (conduct) electricity, and how reactive they are with other elements. Several scientists had made similar observations in 1864 and 1865. However, their description of the patterns – or periodicity – did not gain much notice.
Mendeleev, not aware of those scientists' work, had a dream in which the elements fell into place in a table. He woke from the dream and scribbled down the arrangement; he later claimed that he only had to make one small correction to that dream-inspired table.
In 1869, Mendeleev made a formal presentation of his periodic table to the Russian Chemical Society. He gained international fame and many honors for this work. Although many thought Medeleev should have received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, there is a crater on the Moon named for this scientist, and the chemical element mendelevium (Md) is also named for him.
By the way, Mendeleev also investigate petroleum and helped to found the first oil refinery in Russia.
- Consider buying or making periodic table cards or other items.
- Learn the Periodic Table song! It's a challenge!
Also on this date:
Author Lewis Carroll's birthday
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