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Essential Science: 2019, year of the Periodic Table

The UN is marking 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

The table itself is widely considered to be one of the greatest scientific achievements in human history. To this day, new (albeit synthetic) elements are being added and the table continues to provide the structure to assist scientists in attempting to solve some of the conundrums that the world faces – from scarcity in agriculture, to tapping into new forms of energy.

What is the periodic table?

The periodic elements table

The periodic elements table
by Denn

The periodic table is, as the name suggests, a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements. These elements are arranged in periodic trends – by atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties. There are seven rows of the table, described as periods. The pattern is with having metals on the left and non-metals on the right. The columns of the table are termed groups and these groups contain elements with similar chemical behaviors (similar chemophysical characteristics). For example, group 17 contains elements called halogens and group 18 contains the noble gases, like argon and neon.

The four new elements can be seen in their designated spots on the right-hand side of the periodic t...

The four new elements can be seen in their designated spots on the right-hand side of the periodic table.
Sciencetech Pic

The first 94 elements occur naturally; the remaining elements occur only when synthesized in laboratories.


The construction of the periodic table is credited to Russian chemistry professor Dmitri Mendeleev, who published his table in 1869. A German chemist called Julius Lothar Meyer was also working on a table, but the results of this came out a year later.

There are two important aspects to Mendeleev’s table. First, he recognized that there were still elements to be discovered, so he purposefully left gaps. Secondly, he realized that clustering elements by molecular weight was not completely effective and that patterns were required to group certain elements into chemical families.

How far can the periodic table grow?

Krypton gas is beautiful but also quite dangerous under certain circumstances.

Krypton gas is beautiful but also quite dangerous under certain circumstances.

Since the publication of Mendeleev’s periodic table, there have been fifty five new elements added, all of which fitting right into the existing classification according to their atomic mass. The last four empty spots have become occupied by elements numbered 113, 115, 117 and 118. These four elements, which have less than a second half-life, are all artificially produced, and they are named nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson. The newly discovered elements are elements that possess more than 104 protons. These are described as “superheavy” elements, and the naming was covered by Digital Journal in the article: “Periodic Table is declared ‘complete’”.

It isn’t clear how big the periodic table can become.

Meanwhile, a search for element 119 is carrying on across several research institutes. Notably, in Dubna, Russia, where $60 million dollars is being invested in constructing a new facility known as the Superheavy Element Factory. Some researchers, however, questions the continuing hunt for new synthetic elements that have little practical value to science since any new element discovered will be so unstable that it could not be used for anything meaningful.

2019 – UN sends up science

Throughout 2019 the United Nations is aiming to promote the role of chemistry plays in everyday life and its potential to help resolve many of global challenges humans face across agriculture, climate, environment, energy, and health.

Commenting on this, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry President Professor Natalia Tarasova stated: “As the global organization that provides objective scientific expertise and develops the essential tools for the application and communication of chemical knowledge for the benefit of humankind, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is pleased and honored to make this announcement concerning the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.”

Essential Science

The Dutch protests are part of a wider network of student-led protest groups that have seen tens of ...

The Dutch protests are part of a wider network of student-led protest groups that have seen tens of thousands of young people around the world ditch school to demand action against climate change
Remko de Waal, ANP/AFP

This article is part of Digital Journal’s regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at new medical research which has drawn a connection between climate change and an increase in the proportion of babies born with heart defects.

The week before the subject was a study that shows how machine learning can be applied to reduce the amount of time needed to process abnormal chest X-rays. The system was developed through reviewing thousands of medical images.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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