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17th Mar 2020 @ 7 min read
Dmitri Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and is widely known for the development of the periodic table. He not only corrected the properties of then-known elements but also predicted the properties of undiscovered elements, in fact, he was the first to do so. And he did this just knowing the location of the elements in the periodic table. He explicitly stated the periodic law and firmly stood for his predictions, which were eventually found to be true. It was his boldness and scientific approach to explain things earned him the title of the father of the modern periodic table.
Mendeleev was born in Verkhnie Aremzyani, Serbia to Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev and Maria Dmitrievna Mendeleeva on 8 February 1834. His father was a school teacher of politics and philosophy and the director of the Tobolsk Gymnasium. The family was very large since Dmitri had sixteen siblings. Of seventeen children, many of them did not live up to adulthood. Sadly, the financial condition of the family was challenged when his father lost his eyesight due to cataracts and became unemployed. This put the burden of raising the family on his mother. She resurrected an old deserted glass factory, which tragically burned down by fire in 1848.
Maria Mendeleeva was a strong and determined mother. In 1949, She traveled to Moscow with Mendeleev to enter him in Moscow university, but the university rejected the application. A year later, Mendeleev got enrolled to the Main Pedagogical Institute, Saint Petersburg. Few days after his admission, his mother died by tuberculosis, the same disease that killed his father three years back. After completing his graduation in 1854, he himself was infected by tuberculosis. This causes him to relocate to Crimea for treating his illness. Here, he started teaching science at the Simferopol Gymnasium.
Upon the retrieval of his health, he returned back to Saint Petersburg in 1856. He obtained his master's degree and started working as an assistant professor of Saint Petersburg Imperial University in 1857. He took a break in 1859 and spent the following two years in Heidelberg, Germany, where he studied the capillarity and spectroscopy. In 1861, he wrote the textbook Organic Chemistry, which brought him the Demidov Prize, a national scientific prize in Russia.
Mendeleev met Feozva Nikitichna Leshcheva and got engaged to her on 4 April 1862. They shortly got married on the 27th of the month at the Saint Petersburg Nikolaevsky Engineering Academy. The couple broke up in early 1882. His second marriage to Anna Ivanovna Popova was scandalous and did bring him societal troubles. 43-year-old Mendeleev fell in love with the 18-year-old girl. He married her a month before getting divorced from his first wife.
His bigamy did receive disapproval from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Lyubov, his daughter from his second marriage, became the wife of the famous Russian poet Alexander Blok. In addition to Lyubov, he begot two sons by Anna and a daughter and son by Feozva.
In 1864, he was appointed as a professor at the Saint Petersburg Technological Institute and continue to teach organic chemistry to students. His interest was not restricted to theoretical studies; he was also a practical chemist. Mendeleev showed immense interest in petrochemicals. He visited many on-site petrochemical projects. He completed his doctoral dissertation "On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol" in 1865.
Mendeleev had never thought of that his name might become synonymous with the periodic table. In 1867, Mendeleev started working on his academic book Principles of Chemistry, which got published in two volumes. While working on it, he was puzzled to see the periodicity in the elements when they were arranged in the increasing order of atomic weights. He accidentally discovered the periodic law.
He said that he visualized the periodic table in his dream. “In a dream,” he quoted, “I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”
In 1869, the paper The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements was presented to the Russian Chemical Society by Mendeleev. And a German version of the abstract was circulated in Zeitschrift für Chemie. The paper clearly mentioned the periodic law and nailed down the relationship between the atomic weight and properties of elements. It also pointed out the existence of two undiscovered elements: eka-aluminum (Gallium) and eka-silicon (Germanium).
His 1869 paper got much attention and won him fame. He republished a refined version of his table in 1971. This time he incorporated many omitted elements. Mendeleev in his lifetime predicted eight elements: eka-boron (scandium), eka-aluminum (gallium), eka-silicon (germanium), eka-manganese (technetium), dvi-manganese (rhenium), eka-caesium (francium), eka-iodine (astatine), and eka-tantalum (dubnium). He took the prefixes eka- and dvi- from Sanskrit, which mean one and two, to name the elements. By naming the elements, he did express his admiration for the language.
Besides predicting, he also corrected the properties of some elements that seem to violate his table. For example, he simply doubled the atomic weight of uranium to 240, which is pretty accurate to a present-value of 238. He also placed iodine with the other halogens against the order of atomic weights, which is true according to the modern periodic table.
Mendeleev was not the first to devise the periodic table. There were many before him already arranged the elements with atomic weights and introduced the notion of the periodic law. What made him outstanding from the rest was his scientific approach to explain things, which earned him the title "the father of the modern periodic table".
Apart from chemistry, he was also active in other branches of science, particularly hydrodynamics, meteorology, geology, agricultural science, explosives, and petrochemicals. He studied petrochemicals and also contributed to the development of Russian petrochemical industries. He was also responsible for introducing the metric system to Russia.
He resigned from the Saint Petersburg University on 17 August 1890 and became the director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures in 1893. He was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in 1906 and 1907 but was never conferred. His nominations received the opposition from famous Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius. In 1955, the IUPAC officially named the element with an atomic number of 101 as mendelevium in honor of Mendeleev
Mendeleev spent a lot of his life in Saint Petersburg. He died from influenza in 1907. He was 72 then. His last words to the doctor were "Doctor, you have science, I have faith."
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