Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Chemical Galaxies

The periodic table has remained basically unchanged in its organization since Mendeleev arranged the chemical elements in order of increasing mass in 1869. There have been many additions made, but his arrangement is a rosetta stone to understanding the structure and reactivity of molecules.

Slate (covered by /.) published this article yesterday describing "a new periodic table of the elements" and asking the question "is it time to scrap Mendeleev's old one?" Before you invite your friends over to burn your apparently now defunct chemistry books (do it anyway if you want), let me assure you that Slate is wrong.

Philip Stewart designed the Chemical Galaxy in November of 2004 (a bit late, Slate). Nature had covered the story in February of 2005. Stewart was inspired by a design of Edgar Longman at the 1951 Festival of Britain Science Exhibition at South Kensington. Stewart then put an image of a galaxy behind this arrangement and started to sell posters.

Stewart is doing good here by getting the pretty posters into schools, and I hope that such a graphically appealing image of chemistry will inspire people to pursue the field, but to suggest that such a poster, whose original layout is from 1951, should cause us to scrap Mendeleev's table is ludicrous.