When you walk into my office, the first thing you see is a giant copy of the periodic table. Includes examples or representations of 118 items, such as a glow-in-the-dark clock Requests for radium and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for bismuth. (Sometimes it’s visitors Equal attention to the schedule As they are in everything we discuss – and I don’t blame them!)
Besides being a neat work of art, the periodic table reminds me of how one discovery can lead to countless other discoveries. All the complexities of the universe come from the properties of this graph. Since we understand atoms, we can create chips, and therefore we can create software, and therefore we can create artificial intelligence. It all goes back to the periodic table.
But how exactly did the periodic table come about? Anyone who has taken a science class in elementary school may remember that it was first introduced by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. But the table was actually the culmination of two and a half thousand scientific discoveries.
The 1869 version of the periodic table was much simpler than the current version.
Great book by Paul Strathairn Mendeleev’s dream He traces this journey back to ancient Greece, when people began to question why the world was the way it was. It’s hard to imagine a time before science. But until Thales of Miletus discovered that the presence of seashell fossils on Earth must mean that the whole world was once a sea, Strathearn reminds us that people were more focused on religious matters than on matters of science.
Strathairn spends much of his book exploring the roots of chemistry, which was one of the first forms of science. For centuries, many of the brightest minds, including Isaac Newton, have been fascinated by the idea of turning raw materials into gold or an elixir that will make you immortal. Although the science has been proven flawed, alchemy has inspired generations of scientists to think about how substances interact with each other.
Mendeleev’s dream It seems like a thick book, but Strathern keeps it light writing about the many outrageous characters who have studied alchemy and alchemy over the years. One of the most entertaining chapters is on Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and alchemist in the 1500s. Paracelsus made important contributions to toxicology and medicine. He was also an eccentric character with a flair for the dramatic. During one of his lectures, Strathearn wrote: “Parcelsus began by declaring that he would now reveal the greatest mysteries of medical science. And then he dramatically discovers a bowl of crap. (He is a man after my heart).
Mendeleev was also an extraordinary man. He was known to be so angry that he danced “with a Rumpelstiltskin-like fury”, and the title of the book refers to his claim that the periodic table came to him in a dream. Regardless of its origins, the significance of this hack is unquestionable. Other scientists hinted at repeating patterns in the atomic weights of elements, but Mendeleev was the first to uncover them and fill in the gaps. He accurately predicted the presence of gallium and germanium before any of the elements were discovered. For the first time, humanity had a roadmap to understanding the building blocks of the universe.
Mendeleev’s dream It is the best book I have read on the periodic table. It helps you understand how it all comes together and why it’s so useful. It’s also a fascinating look at how a new science can develop. Strathairn calls the history of the periodic table “a whimsical example of human aspiration,” and I agree with him. The history of chemistry tells us as much about the development of human thought as it does about the science of matter.
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