A Few Things Everyone Should Know About the Periodic Table

So if you are enrolled in a chemistry course, by now you are very aware of the periodic table.  I hesitate to use “familiar” because that implies a certain amount of knowledge and understanding of it, which many people just don’t have.

Imagine that…

You are composing a musical piece periodic table

creating a work of art

choreographing a performance

or improving your jumpshot.



What do all of these have in common?  Patterns.

Dimitri Mendeleev specialized in chemicals and their properties and as he was writing a book about them (a very famous textbook in fact) he noticed a pattern that no other had noticed before.  This is what makes people iconic.  A person does something mind blowing and becomes the face or name that people recognize

….Peter Tchaikovsky….

…. Vincent van Gogh….

…. George Ballanchine….

…. Michael Jordan….

.…Dimitri Mendeleev….

sketch of Dimitri Mendeleev
Dimitri Mendeleev

This is why your instructor emphasizes the periodic table so often…..it is the life of chemistry.  This science cannot exist without this table.  (That statement isn’t entirely true.  Obviously it can  exist because Mendeleev didn’t devise this chart until 1869 and chemistry has roots back to the ancient Greeks.  To give that statement some credence however, Mendeleev was writing a new textbook at the time because there wasn’t anything satisfactory to use when teaching his class on organic chemistry.)

So now that we have established that the periodic table is the life blood of Chemistry, How does it even make any sense?

Just remember patterns……

There is a pattern for how big specific atoms are (atomic size)

…..how heavy specific atoms are (atomic weight)….

….how many pieces make up specific atoms (atomic structure)….

….how electrons behave (electronegativity, electron affinity, etc.)….

….what the elements look like (chemical and physical properties)…

So you can’t read this like a book or like a graph or bar chart.  You need to focus on one pattern at a time and take the specific information you need and leave the rest alone.

Now that due credit has been given to the creator here are a few little tidbits everyone should know about this chart that initially tends to bore all students into a state of low cognition.

Hydrogeneagle nebula pillars

Hydrogen stands apart from all of the elements in a way.  It is the reason that all of the elements exist in a sense.  For star creation to happen, hydrogen must be present.  It is amazing really.  Hydrogen will coalesce and amass a dense enough gas cloud that it will begin to fuse with one another and create new elements.
Two hydrogens make a helium and a helium and a hydrogen will make a lithium and so one and boom you nearly have an entire chart of elements to analyze.

Halogen Bulbs

You’ve heard of them.  Do you know what they are?  Its really quite simple to figure out because it is all mapped out on the periodic table.  Did you know there is an entire column on the table, also know as a family, that contains all of the halogens?  And due to their location on the table we know they are all gases and happy to fluoresce when a current is applied to them.

Here’s a fun word tungsten, tungsten, tungsten……

The filament in halogen bulbs, or nearly any bulb for that matter, is made of tungsten. A halogen, from the halogen family, usually iodine or bromine, surrounds the filament and likes to react with it, since tungsten is a metal and halogens are nonmetals; this is like the number one rule for ionic bonding.  When a current passes through the filament a reaction with the halogen takes place and produces a very bright light.  The cool part about this reaction is that it then undoes itself (it goes through another reaction) and the tungsten is redeposited on the filament and the halogen gas is free again.  This makes for an extra long life for the filament and therefore the bulb.  Super bright and super long life = super useful.

(extra practice: How fast can you locate iodine and bromine on the periodic table?  Do you have their atomic numbers memorized?)

Precious Metals

gold bars

Nickel, palladium and platinum are all in the same family and they all have that nice silver sheen to them.  They are all used in some sort of money making enterprise.  Copper, silver and gold are also in the same family and I know what you’re thinking, they aren’t the same color, but, they are all fantastic conductors.  Do you think that is a coincidence?  I think it is brilliance that this table lines up all of these atomic numbers in order with such amazing groupings.

Neon lightsperiodic table

I’m sure you are all familiar with neon lights.  Perhaps places like amusement parks or Las Vegas pop into your head.  Can you find neon on the periodic table?  There it is, at the end of the second row.  Is there any significance to this?  Did you really have to ask by now?  Of course there is.  Neon is in the noble gas family and at the end of a row which means its valence shell is full of electrons so it doesn’t have a personality complex, it is completely happy with who it is.  When electrified it produces a nice orange light.  It can be identified specifically by its orange color, it doesn’t give off any other color.  So are you asking yourself if I know what I’m talking about?  I’m sure you’ve seen many “neon” signs that are blue or green or that nice light purple color.  Well guess what, those aren’t neon signs.  If it isn’t neon’s signature orange then it ain’t neon.  There is an entire column of narcissistic gases, known as noble gases, at the right most edge of the periodic table, that will produce different colors of light under the same conditions so why limit the name to neon signs, shouldn’t they technically be called noble gas signs?

Lastly, My Favorites

The alkali metals.  These elements are just cool.  They are the first family on the table and when not oxidized they are beautifully shiny metals and are so soft that I could slice through them with a kitchen knife, which is what I did when I was an instructor.  Then I would put them in a bowl of water.  First of all, they didn’t sink, interesting right, and then they would burst into flame.  A piece of metal, in water, on fire, brilliant.  Coolest elements ever!

At this point, I’m hoping I have swayed your opinions on the periodic table.  Perhaps you won’t find it as annoyingly omniscient as your chemistry instructor finds it but perhaps you will have a little more perspective on the subject.

Please leave a comment:

Let me know how you find the periodic table useful and/or how your instructor expects you to use it.  Also, is there any other information you would like to see about it?

As always, please use good etiquette when leaving comments and keep this page a safe, positive place to post.

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