The periodic table of the chemical elements (also Mendeleev's table, periodic table of the elements or just periodic table) is a tabular display of the chemical elements. Although precursors to this table exist, its invention is generally credited to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, who intended the table to illustrate recurring ("periodic") trends in the properties of the elements. The layout of the table has been refined and extended over time, as new elements have been discovered, and new theoretical models have been developed to explain chemical behavior.[1]

The periodic table is now ubiquitous within the academic discipline of chemistry, providing an extremely useful framework to classify, systematize, and compare all of the many different forms of chemical behavior. The table has found wide application in chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering, especially chemical engineering. The current standard table contains 118 elements as of March 2010 (elements 1118).


Periodic table (standard)

Other alternative periodic tables exist.

Some versions of the table show a dark stair-step line along the metalloids. Metals are to the left of the line and non-metals to the right.[2]

The layout of the periodic table demonstrates recurring ("periodic") chemical properties. Elements are listed in order of increasing atomic number (i.e., the number of protons in the atomic nucleus). Rows are arranged so that elements with similar properties fall into the same columns (groups or families). According to quantum mechanical theories of electron configuration within atoms, each row (period) in the table corresponded to the filling of a quantum shell of electrons. There are progressively longer periods further down the table, grouping the elements into s-, p-, d- and f-blocks to reflect their electron configuration.

In printed tables, each element is usually listed with its element symbol and atomic number; many versions of the table also list the element's atomic mass and other information, such as its abbreviated electron configuration, electronegativity and most common valence numbers.

As of 2010, the table contains 118 chemical elements whose discoveries have been confirmed. Ninety-four are found naturally on Earth, and the rest are synthetic elements that have been produced artificially in particle accelerators. Elements 43 (technetium), 61 (promethium) and all elements greater than 83 (bismuth), beginning with 84 (polonium) have no stable isotopes. The atomic mass of each of these element's isotope having the longest half-life is typically reported on periodic tables with parentheses.[3] Isotopes of elements 43, 61, 93 (neptunium) and 94 (plutonium), first discovered synthetically, have since been discovered in trace amounts on Earth as products of natural radioactive decay processes.

The primary determinant of an element's chemical properties is its electron configuration, particularly the valence shell electrons. For instance, any atoms with four valence electrons occupying p orbitals will exhibit some similarity. The type of orbital in which the atom's outermost electrons reside determines the "block" to which it belongs. The number of valence shell electrons determines the family, or group, to which the element belongs.

1 1s
2 2s 2p
3 3s 3p
4 4s 3d4p
5 5s 4d 5p
6 6s 4f5d6p
7 7s 5f6d7p
8 8s5g6f7d8p

The total number of electron shells an atom has determines the period to which it belongs. Each shell is divided into different subshells, which as atomic number increases are filled in roughly this order (the Aufbau principle) (see table). Hence the structure of the table. Since the outermost electrons determine chemical properties, those with the same number of valence electrons are grouped together.

Progressing through a group from lightest element to heaviest element, the outer-shell electrons (those most readily accessible for participation in chemical reactions) are all in the same type of orbital, with a similar shape, but with increasingly higher energy and average distance from the nucleus. For instance, the outer-shell (or "valence") electrons of the first group, headed by hydrogen, all have one electron in an s orbital. In hydrogen, that s orbital is in the lowest possible energy state of any atom, the first-shell orbital (and represented by hydrogen's position in the first period of the table). In francium, the heaviest element of the group, the outer-shell electron is in the seventh-shell orbital, significantly further out on average from the nucleus than those electrons filling all the shells below it in energy. As another example, both carbon and lead have four electrons in their outer shell orbitals.

Note that as atomic number (i.e., charge on the atomic nucleus) increases, this leads to greater spin-orbit coupling between the nucleus and the electrons, reducing the validity of the quantum mechanical orbital approximation model, which considers each atomic orbital as a separate entity.

The elements ununtrium, ununquadium, ununpentium, etc. are elements that have been discovered, but so far have not received a trivial name yet. There is a system for naming them temporarily.



Main article: Group (periodic table)

A group or family is a vertical column in the periodic table. Groups are considered the most important method of classifying the elements. In some groups, the elements have very similar properties and exhibit a clear trend in properties down the group. These groups tend to be given trivial (unsystematic) names, e.g., the alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, halogens, pnictogens, chalcogens, and noble gases. Some other groups in the periodic table display fewer similarities and/or vertical trends (for example Group 14), and these have no trivial names and are referred to simply by their group numbers.


Main article: Period (periodic table)

A period is a horizontal row in the periodic table. Although groups are the most common way of classifying elements, there are some regions of the periodic table where the horizontal trends and similarities in properties are more significant than vertical group trends. This can be true in the d-block (or "transition metals"), and especially for the f-block, where the lanthanides and actinides form two substantial horizontal series of elements.


File:PTable structure.png
Main article: Periodic table block

Because of the importance of the outermost shell, the different regions of the periodic table are sometimes referred to as periodic table blocks, named according to the subshell in which the "last" electron resides. The s-block comprises the first two groups (alkali metals and alkaline earth metals) as well as hydrogen and helium. The p-block comprises the last six groups (groups 13 through 18) and contains, among others, all of the semimetals. The d-block comprises groups 3 through 12 and contains all of the transition metals. The f-block, usually offset below the rest of the periodic table, comprises the rare earth metals.


The chemical elements are also grouped together in other ways. Some of these groupings are often illustrated on the periodic table, such as transition metals, poor metals, and metalloids. Other informal groupings exist, such as the platinum group and the noble metals.

Periodicity of chemical propertiesEdit

The main value of the periodic table is the ability to predict the chemical properties of an element based on its location on the table. It should be noted that the properties vary differently when moving vertically along the columns of the table than when moving horizontally along the rows.

Trends of groupsEdit

Modern quantum mechanical theories of atomic structure explain group trends by proposing that elements within the same group have the same electron configurations in their valence shell, which is the most important factor in accounting for their similar properties. Elements in the same group also show patterns in their atomic radius, ionization energy, and electronegativity. From top to bottom in a group, the atomic radii of the elements increase. Since there are more filled energy levels, valence electrons are found farther from the nucleus. From the top, each successive element has a lower ionization energy because it is easier to remove an electron since the atoms are less tightly bound. Similarly, a group will also see a top to bottom decrease in electronegativity due to an increasing distance between valence electrons and the nucleus.

Trends of periodsEdit

File:Ionization energies.png

Elements in the same period show trends in atomic radius, ionization energy, electron affinity, and electronegativity. Moving left to right across a period, atomic radius usually decreases. This occurs because each successive element has an added proton and electron which causes the electron to be drawn closer to the nucleus. This decrease in atomic radius also causes the ionization energy to increase when moving from left to right across a period. The more tightly bound an element is, the more energy is required to remove an electron. Similarly, electronegativity will increase in the same manner as ionization energy because of the amount of pull that is exerted on the electrons by the nucleus. Electron affinity also shows a slight trend across a period. Metals (left side of a period) generally have a lower electron affinity than nonmetals (right side of a period) with the exception of the noble gases.


Main article: History of the periodic table

In 1789, Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 chemical elements. Although Lavoisier grouped the elements into gases, metals, non-metals, and earths, chemists spent the following century searching for a more precise classification scheme. In 1829, Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner observed that many of the elements could be grouped into triads (groups of three) based on their chemical properties. Lithium, sodium, and potassium, for example, were grouped together as being soft, reactive metals. Döbereiner also observed that, when arranged by atomic weight, the second member of each triad was roughly the average of the first and the third.[4] This became known as the Law of triads.[citation needed] German chemist Leopold Gmelin worked with this system, and by 1843 he had identified ten triads, three groups of four, and one group of five. Jean Baptiste Dumas published work in 1857 describing relationships between various groups of metals. Although various chemists were able to identify relationships between small groups of elements, they had yet to build one scheme that encompassed them all.[4]

German chemist August Kekulé had observed in 1858 that carbon has a tendency to bond with other elements in a ratio of one to four. Methane, for example, has one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. This concept eventually became known as valency. In 1864, fellow German chemist Julius Lothar Meyer published a table of the 49 known elements arranged by valency. The table revealed that elements with similar properties often shared the same valency.[5]

English chemist John Newlands published a series of papers in 1864 and 1865 that described his attempt at classifying the elements: When listed in order of increasing atomic weight, similar physical and chemical properties recurred at intervals of eight, which he likened to the octaves of music.[6][7] This law of octaves, however, was ridiculed by his contemporaries.[8]

File:Medeleeff by repin.jpg

Russian chemistry professor Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev and Julius Lothar Meyer independently published their periodic tables in 1869 and 1870, respectively. They both constructed their tables in a similar manner: by listing the elements in a row or column in order of atomic weight and starting a new row or column when the characteristics of the elements began to repeat.[9] The success of Mendeleev's table came from two decisions he made: The first was to leave gaps in the table when it seemed that the corresponding element had not yet been discovered.[10] Mendeleev was not the first chemist to do so, but he went a step further by using the trends in his periodic table to predict the properties of those missing elements, such as gallium and germanium.[11] The second decision was to occasionally ignore the order suggested by the atomic weights and switch adjacent elements, such as cobalt and nickel, to better classify them into chemical families. With the development of theories of atomic structure, it became apparent that Mendeleev had inadvertently listed the elements in order of increasing atomic number.[12]

With the development of modern quantum mechanical theories of electron configurations within atoms, it became apparent that each row (or period) in the table corresponded to the filling of a quantum shell of electrons. In Mendeleev's original table, each period was the same length. However, because larger atoms have more electron sub-shells, modern tables have progressively longer periods further down the table.[13]

In the years that followed after Mendeleev published his periodic table, the gaps he left were filled as chemists discovered more chemical elements. The last naturally-occurring element to be discovered was francium (referred to by Mendeleev as eka-caesium) in 1939.[14] The periodic table has also grown with the addition of synthetic and transuranic elements. The first transuranic element to be discovered was neptunium, which was formed by bombarding uranium with neutrons in a cyclotron in 1939.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. IUPAC article on periodic table
  2. Science Standards of Learning Curriculum Framework
  3. Dynamic periodic table
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ball, p. 100
  5. Ball, p. 101
  6. Newlands, John A. R. (1864-08-20). "On Relations Among the Equivalents". Chemical News 10: 94–95, 
  7. Newlands, John A. R. (1865-08-18). "On the Law of Octaves". Chemical News 12: 83, 
  8. Bryson, Bill (2004). A Short History of Nearly Everything. London: Black Swan. pp. 141–142. ISBN 9780552151740. 
  9. Ball, pp. 100–102
  10. Pullman, p. 227
  11. Ball, p. 105
  12. Atkins, p. 87
  13. Ball, p. 111
  14. Adloff, Jean-Pierre; Kaufman, George B. (2005-09-25). Francium (Atomic Number 87), the Last Discovered Natural Element. The Chemical Educator 10 (5). Retrieved on 2007-03-26.
  15. Ball, p. 123


  • Atkins, P. W. (1995). The Periodic Kingdom, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.. ISBN 0-465-07265-8. 
  • Ball, Philip (2002). The Ingredients: A Guided Tour of the Elements, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-284100-9. 
  • Brown, Theodore L.; LeMay, H. Eugene; Bursten, Bruce E. (2005). Chemistry:The Central Science (10th ed.), Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-109686-9. 
  • Pullman, Bernard (1998). The Atom in the History of Human Thought, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515040-6. 

Further readingEdit

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  • Bouma, J. (1989). "An Application-Oriented Periodic Table of the Elements". J. Chem. Ed. 66: 741. doi:10.1021/ed066p741. 
  • Eric Scerri (2007). The periodic table: its story and its significance. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-530573-6. 
  • Mazurs, E.G (1974). Graphical Representations of the Periodic System During One Hundred Years. Alabama: University of Alabama Press. 

External linksEdit

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