Although the early alchemists have been stereotyped as gold-diggers eager to transmute lead into something with a better cash value, what they were really after was an orderly description of the materials that make up our world. While the gold thing never really worked out, alchemy’s loftier vision was ultimately realized with the conception of the Periodic Table of the Elements, an iconic scientific arrangement that can be found in classrooms and laboratories anywhere in the world.
This past year marked the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table, as well at the centennial of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which oversees administration of the table’s nomenclature and contents. These milestones prompted the United Nations to declare 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT), which spawned a steady outpouring of Table lore. CIC helped get the ball rolling by highlighting the unique ElemenTree created by the late Fernando Dufour, and even giving away some examples of this model at the Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition in Quebec City in June.
Students from 118 schools in 28 countries got in the action, too, by contributing to a massive art project that created images to go with each element’s discovery. CIC’s Chemical Education Fund provided a copy of the resulting Timeline of Elements to every high school in Canada, while 3M Canada sponsored a huge rendering that was put on display at the University of Waterloo’s Science Teaching Complex.
IUPAC, for its part, saw fit to honour the current generation of up-and-coming chemists by naming them to particular elements in the table. The resulting Periodic Table of Younger Chemists included six Canadians, each of whom were profiled in CIC News. Meanwhile, we have no specific statistics about how many times musician Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” was heard during 2019, but do yourself a favour and listen to it now.