In the pantheon of scientific accomplishments, the Periodic Table of the Elements occupies a unique place. Easily accessible and almost deceptively simple in appearance, it qualifies as both a reference tool and a research tool. Its significance cuts across almost any discipline you would care to name, and researchers from all walks of science find themselves continuing to mine the intricate relationships that it organizes. Like a welcome lighthouse as you try to navigate challenging waters, the Periodic Table is a beacon of order that enables us to make some sense of the chaos we frequently confront in the physical world. In an age of inspired animation, it has become the focus for some remarkable on-line versions that make this powerful database user friendly to all comers. It has even been set to music.
This coming year, 2019, represents the 150th anniversary of Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the relationships underlying the Periodic Table. The year is also the centennial of the founding of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the body that oversees a wide array of scientific nomenclature and serves as the de facto keeper of the Periodic Table, ensuring that it is as up-to-date and accurate as the latest science will allow. For these reasons the United Nations has declared 2019 to be the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT 2019), a celebration of one of the most familiar and powerful scientific accomplishments in human history.
The occasion will be formally launched at an opening ceremony to take place at the Paris offices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an event that will feature presentations on the past, present, and future of this remarkable system, including a lecture by Dutch chemist Ben Feringa, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In February UNESCO is collaborating with IUPAC, the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, the European Chemical Society, Real Sociedad Española de Química, and the University of Murcia to hold a two-day symposium on just how much female researchers have contributed to the content of the contemporary Periodic Table. Continuing the month’s celebrations of diversity, a single-day Global Women’s Breakfast will be held globally on February 12 by local organizers, including Canadian events across the country. In another take on diversity, July’s World Chemistry Congress and IUPAC General Assembly will see the completion of the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists, for which there are still many opportunities to increase Canadian nominations to add to University of Saskatchewan’s Kelly Summers (copper) and Memorial University’s Ernest Awoonor-Williams (zinc).
Meanwhile, the British-based educational organization 1001 Inventions is mounting a multimedia initiative, “1001 Inventions: Journeys from Alchemy to Chemistry”, which considers the broad span of inquiry going back more than 1200 years and culminated in the well-organized table we know today.
On home soil, the 102ndCanadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (CCCE 2019) will celebrate the elements, and the rich variety of Canadian chemistry, by grouping conference abstracts according to their most prominently featured element. The Chemical Institute of Canada is indeed a big fan of the Periodic Table, so much so that we would like to offer our members a chance to obtain their own copy of one of its more remarkable physical representations. Known as the ElemenTree, it was developed by the late Fernando Dufour, who was a professor at Collège Ahuntsic in Montreal. We are fortunate to have been offered a number of these keepsakes; watch in 2019 for your chance to obtain one for yourself, along with more announcements for how we’re celebrating IYPT 2019!
Fernando Dufour with several versions of his ElemenTree. Photo credit: Paul Dufour
The ElemenTree model the CIC will be making available to some of its lucky members. Photo credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum