What Did the Law of Octaves State About the Elements?

The “Law of Octaves” stated that when the elements are ordered by increasing atomic weights, every eighth group of the elements has similar chemical properties. This pattern is similar to piano octaves, which are also grouped in patterns of eight. For this reason, the theory was named the “Law of Octaves.”

The English chemist John Newlands published his “Law of Octaves” theory in 1863, but it was not received well by other scientists. Newlands received severe criticism from his peers, who publicly labeled his ideas useless and arbitrary. Feeling dejected, Newlands stopped his research on the elements and the ordering of the periodic table. A decade later, chemists Dmitri Mendeleev and Julius Meyer each made observations that corroborated Newlands' “Law of Octaves” theory. As a result, they each created theories independently that were very similar to Newland’s, which demonstrated that his ideas were not irrational or arbitrary.

Both Meyer and Mendeleev used atomic weights to order their own periodic tables. According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Meyer arranged 28 elements by their increasing atomic weights and grouped them into six categories by similar characteristics. Mendeleev, on the other hand, was the first to create a periodic table of all of the then-known elements that was also set up to predict a few that had not yet been discovered. The periodic table continued to be grouped by increasing atomic number until 1914 when Henry Moseley created the current periodic table.