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mendeleev, dmitri

Mendeleev's predicted elements

Professor Dmitri Mendeleev published the first Periodic Table of the Atomic Elements in 1869 based on properties which appeared with some regularity as he laid out the elements from lightest to heaviest. When Mendeleev proposed his periodic table, he noted gaps in the table, and predicted that as-of-yet unknown elements existed with properties appropriate to fill those gaps.

Original predictions from 1869

To give provisional names to his predicted elements, Mendeleev used the prefixes eka-, dvi-, and tri-, from the Sanskrit words for one, two, and three, depending upon whether the predicted element was one, two, or three places down from the known element in his table with similar chemical properties.

The four predicted elements lighter than the rare earth elements, ekaboron (Eb), ekaaluminium (El), ekamanganese (Em), and ekasilicon (Es), proved to be good predictors of the properties of scandium, gallium, technetium and germanium respectively, which each fill the spot in the periodic table assigned by Mendeleev. Initial versions of the periodic table did not give the rare earth elements the treatment now given them, helping to explain both why Mendeleev’s predictions for heavier unknown elements did not fare as well as those for the lightest predictions and why they are not as well known or documented.

Nowadays, the prefix eka- (and, more rarely, dvi-) is sometimes used in discussions about undiscovered elements, such as untriennium, also known as eka-actinium or dvi-lanthanum.

Ekaboron and scandium

Scandium was isolated as the oxide in autumn, 1879, by Lars Fredrick Nilson; Per Teodor Cleve recognized the correspondence and notified Mendeleev late in that year. Mendeleev had predicted an atomic mass of 44 for ekaboron in 1871 while scandium has an atomic mass of 44.955910.

Ekaaluminium and gallium

In 1871 Mendeleev predicted the existence of yet undiscovered element he named eka-aluminum (because of its proximity to aluminum in the periodic table). The table below compares the qualities of the element predicted by Mendeleev with actual characteristics of Gallium (discovered in 1875).
Property Ekaaluminum Gallium
atomic mass 68 69.72
density (g/cm³) 6.0 5.904
melting point (°C) Low 29.78
oxide's formula Ea2O3 (density - 5.5 g cm-3) (soluble in both alkalis and acids) Ga2O3 (density - 5.88 g cm-3) (soluble in both alkalis and acids)
chloride's formula Ea2Cl6 (volatile) Ga2Cl6 (volatile)

Ekamanganese and technetium

Technetium was isolated by Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segrè in 1937, well after Mendeleev’s lifetime, from samples of molybdenum that had been bombarded with deuterium nuclei in a cyclotron by Ernest Lawrence. Mendeleev had predicted an atomic mass of 100 for ekamanganese in 1871 and the most stable isotope of technetium is 98Tc.

Ekasilicon and germanium

Germanium was isolated in 1882, and provided the best confirmation of the theory up to that time, due to its contrasting more clearly with its neighboring elements than the two previously confirmed predictions of Mendeleev do with theirs.

Property Ekasilicon Germanium
atomic mass 72 72.59
density (g/cm³) 5.5 5.35
melting point (°C) high 947
color gray gray
oxide type refractory dioxide refractory dioxide
oxide density (g/cm³) 4.7 4.7
oxide activity feebly basic feebly basic
chloride boiling point under 100°C 86°C (GeCl4)
chloride density (g/cm³) 1.9 1.9

1871 predictions

The existence of an element between thorium and uranium was predicted by Mendeleev in 1871. In 1900 William Crookes isolated protactinium as a radioactive material from uranium which he could not identify. Different isotopes of protactinium were identified in Germany in 1913 and in 1918, but the name protactinium was not given until 1949.

Mendeleev's 1869 table had implicitly predicted a heavier analog of titanium and zirconium, but in 1871 he placed lanthanum in that spot. The 1923 discovery of hafnium validated Mendeleev's original 1869 prediction.

Later predictions of elements coronium and ether

In 1902, having accepted the evidence for elements helium and argon, Mendeleev placed these Noble Gases in Group 0 in his arrangement of the elements. As Mendeleev was doubtful of atomic theory to explain the Law of definite proportions, he had no a priori reason to believe hydrogen was the lightest of elements, and suggested that a hypothetical lighter member of these chemically inert Group 0 elements could have gone undetected and be responsible for radioactivity.

The heavier of the hypothetical proto-helium elements Mendeleev identified with coronium, named by association with an unexplained spectral line in the Sun's corona. A faulty calibration gave a wavelength of 531.68 nm, which was eventually corrected to 530.3 nm, which Grotrian and Edlen identified as originating from Fe XIV in 1939.

The lightest of the Zero Group gases, the first in the Periodic Table, was assigned a theoretical atomic mass between 5.3 x 10-11 and 9.6 x 10-7. The kinetic velocity of this gas was calculated by Mendeleev to be 2,500,000 meters per second. Nearly massless, these gases were assumed by Mendeleev to permeate all matter, rarely interacting chemically. The high mobility and very small mass of the trans-hydrogen gases would result in the situation, that they could be rarefied, yet appear to be very dense. Mendeleev was so confident that these atomic elements would be discovered, that he included them in later publications of the periodic chart, although there was no physical evidence for their existence available at the time.

Mendeleev later published a theoretical expression of the ether, which satisfied many of the contradictions which existed in physics at that time, in a small booklet entitled, A Chemical Conception of the Ether, in 1904. His 1904 publication again contained two atomic elements smaller and lighter than hydrogen. He treated the “ether gas” as an interstellar atmosphere composed of at least two lighter-than-hydrogen elements. He stated that these gases originated due to violent bombardments internal to stars, the sun being the most prolific source of such gases. According to Mendeleev's booklet, the interstellar atmosphere was probably composed of several additional elemental species.

In 1905, Albert Einstein demonstrated that Brownian motion resulted as the natural consequence of the atomic theory. Later, atomic number was determined to be more natural than atomic weight in classifying the elements. While Mendeleev's genius persists in the arrangement of the periodic table, the lightest element was finally confirmed to be hydrogen, with atomic number 1.

Notes and references

Further reading

  • Scerri, Eric (2007). The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance. New York: Oxford University Press.

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