I had hoped to have the two episodes on the history of the periodic table ready to upload by yesterday but the editing is progressing slower than planned, mostly because my “day” job has picked up and I am editing Business Profile Videos for three clients at the same time. Work on the Elements Unearthed podcasts has had to take a back seat to actually earning money. It has also taken more time to create the animations for the episodes than expected. I added an extra section to my original script, explaining what elements were known at the time Mendeleev built his table, and since this will be done by narration there must be some sort of visual material to show while the narrator (me) is talking, and I have devised several animations that go along with the script.
I’ve put these animations and a few still renders into a compilation clip that I am attaching to this blog here:
To explain the animations, the first two animations (after four stills) are of A. E. Béguyer de Chancourtois’ Telluric Screw, which was the first table to recognize the periodic law. He envisioned a cylinder with a spiral sequence of the elements, listed by order of atomic weights from the top down. He divided the elements into periods of 16 columns each, so that every 16 positions the pattern repeats, although not every position is occupied (atomic weights often increase by several units from element to element). It works quite well for the first few turns of the screw, but by the time it gets past titanium into the transition metals, the pattern of periodicity starts to break down because, as we now know, the periods of the periodic table aren’t the same length. The second animation shows the alignment of the elements into groups. Here are two still images rendered from the animation that show this alignment of elements by properties.
The next animation is simply a list of the elements by date of discovery, divided into periods of 25 years. 63 elements were known by 1869. The next animation shows all of the elements arranged in order by atomic number into six columns (there’s no reason for the six; it was just the number that I picked to set up the animation). They are also given colors by elemental families: red for the alkali metals, orange for the alkaline earths, green and blue for the transition metals, indigo for the metalloids, purple for the non-metals, bright purple for the halogens, magenta for the noble gases, and yellow and brown for the rare earths. The next animation shows the same list, but now takes away the elements that were unknown to Mendeleev, leaving only those that he was able to work with when building his table. Only a few rare earths were known, there were significant gaps, and an entire group of elements, the noble gases, was unknown. So trying to organize these elements into some sort of table was a difficult task.
The next animation shows this list of known elements moving into position to form Mendeleev’s first periodic table of Feb., 1869. One can see that he made some mistakes – beryllium and magnesium should be moved down to a position underneath lithium and sodium, and he has the rare earths out of place (mostly the trouble was that their atomic weights hadn’t been accurately measured yet). He has gold and mercury reversed, and a few groups shifted. His table is also organized vertically by periods instead of horizontally as is our usual medium format table today. If you were to take his table and rotate it clockwise 90 degrees, then flip the whole table horizontally, it would be oriented as our standard table is today and quite recognizable. This was quite an achievement given the limitations he worked with. His main insight was realizing that the periods didn’t have the same lengths; all his competitors had tried to force the elements into periods of equal lengths and it just wouldn’t work. Another insight was that he realized there were gaps in the table – jumps of atomic weights and properties, and Mendeleev put himself out on a limb predicting that those elements were yet to be discovered; he even predicted their properties with high accuracy. The three most famous cases were gallium (discovered about five years later), scandium, and germanium.
I am still working on several animations and one is rendering right now showing the medium format table opening up to become a long format table; I’ll do another one where the medium format table rearranges itself into a left-step table, and even try a few 3D tables as well. To build these tables, I created each element as a separate, moving tile which can be arranged in any position. The software used is Daz3D Bryce. The music playing in the animations is a simple loop I created using Garageband on my Mac. As for the sample images I’m showing here, feel free to download them and use them however you like as long as you give me credit. I’m trying to provide accurate scientific information but do so with visual appeal and artistic merit.
Meanwhile, editing on the video itself is progressing and I will have these two episodes posted along with the Rationale episode ASAP. I’ll then follow with the beryllium episodes and one on Greek matter theories, then move on to blown glass, cement making, stained glass, synthetic diamonds, and the Tintic mining district in Utah. I hope to have all of these done and posted before March 17, as I will be traveling back to Philadelphia then to attend and present at the National Science Teachers Association annual conference. My proposal to present was accepted by NSTA, and I will need to have several episodes posted by then to use in the presentation, one way or another, even if I have to put some client projects on hold.