The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular method of displaying the chemical elements. Although precursors to this table exist, its invention is generally credited to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. Mendeleev 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.
The periodic table is now ubiquitous within the academic discipline of chemistry, providing an extremely useful framework to classify, systematize and compare all the many different forms of chemical behavior. The table has also found wide application in physics, biology, engineering, and industry. The current standard table contains 117 elements as of January 27, 2008 (elements 1-116 and element 118).
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.
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 vertical columns ("groups"). According to quantum mechanical theories of electron configuration within atoms, each horizontal 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 2006, the table contains 117 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), 93 (neptunium) and 94 (plutonium) have no stable isotopes and were first discovered synthetically; however, they were later discovered in trace amounts on earth as products of natural radioactive decay processes.
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 and noble gases. Some other groups in the periodic table display fewer similarities and/or vertical trends (for example Groups 14 and 15), and these have no trivial names and are referred to simply by their group numbers.
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.
As a result, all halogens form acids with hydrogen, such as hydrofluoric acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrobromic acid and hydroiodic acid, all in the form HX. Their acidity increases with higher period, for example, with regard to iodine and fluorine, since a large I− ion is more stable in solution than a small F−, there is less volume in which to disperse the charge.
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):
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.
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 sub-shell in which the "last" electron resides, e.g. the s-block, the p-block, the d-block, etc.
The elements Ununbium, ununtrium, ununquadium, etc. are elements that have been discovered, but so far have not been named.
In Ancient Greece, the influential Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that there were four main elements: air, fire, earth and water. All of these elements could be reacted to create another one; e.g., earth and fire combined to form lava. However, this theory was dismissed when the real chemical elements started being discovered. Scientists needed an easily accessible, well organized database with which information about the elements could be recorded and accessed. This was to be known as the periodic table.
The original table was created before the discovery of subatomic particles or the formulation of current quantum mechanical theories of atomic structure. If one orders the elements by atomic mass, and then plots certain other properties against atomic mass, one sees an undulation or periodicity to these properties as a function of atomic mass. The first to recognize these regularities was the German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner who, in 1829, noticed a number of triads of similar elements:
|Element|| Molar mass |
| Density |
In 1829 Döbereiner proposed the Law of Triads: The middle element in the triad had atomic weight that was the average of the other two members. The densities of some triads followed a similar pattern. Soon other scientists found chemical relationships extended beyond triads. Fluorine was added to Cl/Br/I group; sulfur, oxygen, selenium and tellurium were grouped into a family; nitrogen, phosphorus, arsenic, antimony, and bismuth were classified as another group.
This was followed by the English chemist John Newlands, who noticed in 1865 that when placed in order of increasing atomic weight, elements of similar physical and chemical properties recurred at intervals of eight, which he likened to the octaves of music, though his law of octaves was ridiculed by his contemporaries. However, while successful for some elements, Newlands' law of octaves failed for two reasons:
Finally, in 1869 the Russian chemistry professor Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev and four months later the German Julius Lothar Meyer independently developed the first periodic table, arranging the elements by mass. However, Mendeleev plotted a few elements out of strict mass sequence in order to make a better match to the properties of their neighbors in the table, corrected mistakes in the values of several atomic masses, and predicted the existence and properties of a few new elements in the empty cells of his table. Mendeleev was later vindicated by the discovery of the electronic structure of the elements in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Earlier attempts to list the elements to show the relationships between them (for example by Newlands) had usually involved putting them in order of atomic mass. Mendeleev's key insight in devising the periodic table was to lay out the elements to illustrate recurring ("periodic") chemical properties (even if this meant some of them were not in mass order), and to leave gaps for "missing" elements. Mendeleev used his table to predict the properties of these "missing elements", and many of them were indeed discovered and fit the predictions well.
With the development of theories of atomic structure (for instance by Henry Moseley) it became apparent that Mendeleev had listed the elements in order of increasing atomic number (i.e. the net amount of positive charge on the atomic nucleus). This sequence is nearly identical to that resulting from ascending atomic mass.
In order to illustrate recurring properties, Mendeleev began new rows in his table so that elements with similar properties fell into the same vertical columns ("groups").
With the development of modern quantum mechanical theories of electron configuration within atoms, it became apparent that each horizontal row ("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. Modern tables have progressively longer periods further down the table, and group the elements into s-, p-, d- and f-blocks to reflect our understanding of their electron configuration.