I’ve been neglecting to write this blog for the last few weeks, what with the usual Christmas rush. Now that New Years is done, I’m resolved to write more often, at least twice per week. Another reason I’ve been neglectful is that I’ve been quite busy working on episodes of the videos for The Elements Unearthed project, especially the episodes on the history of the periodic table where I interviewed Dr. Eric Scerri of UCLA. He is the author of The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance by Oxford Press.
During the last few weeks I’ve transcribed his interview and sent it to him to look over for revisions, as well as the drafts of the episode scripts. He has been most gracious to provide suggestions that have greatly improved the scripts. Because of the detail of the interview, I’m going to divide it into two parts, the first on the precursors to Mendeleev and the second on Mendeleev and beyond. Each should be about 15 minutes when complete. I will upload a compressed version of each episode here once they are done (another two weeks, tops – I have quite a few client projects happening right now, too) as well as the finished transcript of the interview and the episode scripts. I’ll also upload them to a dedicated video site and then uplink them to iTunes and YouTube.
In preparation for these episodes, I’ve been cleaning up the photos I took this last summer at the Chemical Heritage Foundation of the Edward G. Mazurs collected notes, which he prepared over several decades for his book Graphical Representations of the Periodic System During 100 Years, which he self-published in 1957 and which was then revised and published by the University of Alabama Press in 1974.
He classified over 700 different periodic tables, and his notes filled ten three-ring binders. I also was able to photograph the production artwork that was used for the books. It dawned on me while I was doing the clean-up that I didn’t actually have any photographs of the final books, so I traveled over to Brigham Young University’s library two weeks ago and found both editions on the shelves, as well as Jan van Spronsen’s book and a book in Russian with photos of Mendeleev, his notes. and his laboratory. I photographed all the relevant pages, including any photographs or portraits of the people who contributed to the development of the periodic table, including such people as Alexandre Emile Beguyer de Chancourtois, who developed his Telluric Screw in 1862 which shows the first discovery of the periodic law: that the properties of the elements seem to repeat periodically.
Finding the 1957 edition of Mazurs’ book is quite rare, since not many were printed. While I was there, I looked up an article I remember reading in Chemistry magazine back in the 1970s on various forms of the periodic table. It’s funny how memory can play tricks on you, however. What I thought was a major article showing various forms of the table in full color was actually a short article showing one form of the table (although it was in full color). I apparently have a better memory for images than for text; my memory had expanded and aggrandized the article into something much more than it was. But the table was interesting, and here is a photo of it:
I was also struck as I was preparing these images from Mazurs’ notes how some of the more exotic continuous-form periodic tables look remarkably like images of strange attractors in fractal mathematics. I’ve been playing around with an interesting free-ware program called Chaoscope trying to come up with similar images and here are a few samples comparing Mazurs’ notes and artwork with fractal patterns. Wouldn’t it be fun if some bored mathematician was able to show that the unusual pattern of the periodic system (created by the quantum mechanics of electron orbital filling in successive atoms) followed a fractal equation? I’m afraid I’m not much of a mathematician, but I can make some pretty pictures now and then. Anyway, from a visual standpoint, the similarities are amazing.