History of the chemical symbols and the Periodic Table - Elementymology & Elements Multidict

Elementymology & Elements Multidict

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Development of the chemical symbols and the Periodic Table

Lavoisier - Dalton - Berzelius - Менделеев (Mendeleev) - Moseley

by Peter van der Krogt  

Lavoisier 1789 - 33 elements

Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) introduced the system of chemical nomenclature. His Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (1789) was the first modern chemical textbook, and presented a unified view of new theories of chemistry. In addition, it contained a list of 33 elements, or substances that could not be broken down further. His list also included light (lumière) and caloric (calorique), which he believed to be material substances. Lavoisier himself grouped them into four categories on the basis of their chemical properties:
  1. Simple substances belonging to all the kingdoms of nature, which may be considered as the elements of bodies (gases),
  2. Oxydable and Acidifiable simple Substances not Metallic (nonmetals),
  3. Oxydable and Acidifiable simple Metallic Bodies (metals),
  4. Salifiable simple Earthy Substances (earths).
In the first category he listed substances that we now know as oxides but which at the time had defeated all attempts at separation.

Lavoisier's table of simple substances
Gases
New names (French)Old names (English translation)
LumièreLight
CaloriqueHeat
Principle of heat
Igneous fluid
Fire
Matter of fire and of heat
OxygèneDephlogisticated air
Empyreal air
Vital air
Base of vital air
AzotePhlogisticated gas
Mephitis
Base of mephitis
HydrogèneInflammable air or gas
Base of inflammable air
Metals
New names (French)Old names (English translation)
AntimoineAntimony
ArgentSilver
ArsenicArsenic
BismuthBismuth
CoboltCobalt
CuivreCopper
ÉtainTin
FerIron
ManganèseManganese
MercureMercury
MolybdèneMolybdena
NickelNickel
OrGold
PlatinePlatina
PlombLead
TungstèneTungsten
ZincZinc
Nonmetals
New names (French)Old names (English translation)
SoufreSulphur
PhosphorePhosphorus
CarbonePure charcoal
Radical muriatiqueUnknown
Radical fluoriqueUnknown
Radical boraciqueUnknown
Earths
New names (French)Old names (English translation)
ChauxChalk, calcareous earth
MagnésieMagnesia, base of Epsom salt
BaryteBarote, or heavy earth
AlumineClay, earth of alum, base of alum
SiliceSiliceous earth, vitrifiable earth

Further reading:

Dalton 1808 - 36 elements

John Dalton (1766-1844) was an English meteorologist who switched to chemistry when he saw the applications for chemistry of his ideas about the atmosphere. He proposed the Atomic Theory in 1803 which stated that
  1. all matter was composed of small indivisible particles termed atoms,
  2. atoms of a given element possess unique characteristics and weight, and
  3. three types of atoms exist: simple (elements), compound (simple molecules), and complex (complex molecules).
Dalton's theory was presented in New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808-1827). Since the old achemical symbols were not fit to use in his theory, he proposed a new set of standard symbols for the chemical elements in the first volume of his New System.

John Dalton A few of his symbols are here above, to the right the page from the New System, also the background image of this website is an illustrations of Dalton's symbols.

Dalton's symbols were not much better than previous examples, as there was nothing about them which made it easy to memorise them. However, Dalton's symbols did have some benefits: each symbol represented one atom and the formula of a compound was made up of the symbols of its elements, it showed how many of these atoms were present in the molecule.

O
Oxygen
H
Hydrogen
N
Nitrogen
C
Carbon
S
Sulphur
P
Phosphorus
Au
Gold
Pt
Platinum
Ag
Silver

Hg
Mercury
Cu
Copper
Fe
Iron
Ni
Nickel
Sn
Tin
Pb
Lead
Zn
Zinc
Bi
Bismuth
Sb
Antimony

As
Arsenic
Co
Cobalt
Mn
Manganese
U
Uranium
W
Tungsten
Ti
Titanium
Ce
Cerium
K
Potassium
Na
Sodium

Ca
Calcium
Mg
Magnesium
Ba
Barium
Sr
Strontium
Al
Aluminium
Si
Silicon
Y
Yttrium
Be
Beryllium
Zr
Zirconium

A few years later Dalton's system was superseded with the chemical symbols and formulae by Jöns Berzelius, which are still used today.

Further reading:

Berzelius 1813-14 - 47 elements

As we see in the complete list of Daltin symbols, the symbol for newly discovered elements was a letter or two letters in a circle. It is therefor quite logical that a few years later, in Sweden, Berzelius suggested just using letters, argumenting those are easier to write and print.

The chemical signs ought to be letters, for the greater facility of writing, and not to disfigure a printed book. Though this last circumstance may not appear of any great importance, it ought to be avoided whenever it can be done. I shall take, therefore, for the chemical sign, the initial letter of the Latin name of each elementary substance: but as several have the same initial letter, I shall distinguish them in the following manner:--
  1. In the class which I call metalloids, I shall employ the initial letter only, even when this letter is common to the metalloid and some metal.
  2. In the class of metals, I shall distinguish those that have the same initials with another metal, or a metalloid, by writing the first two letters of the word.
  3. If the first two letters be common to two metals, I shall, in that case, add to the initial letter the first consonant which they have not in common:
for example, S = sulphur, Si = silicium, St = stibium (antimony), Sn = stannum (tin), C = carbonicum, Co = cobaltum (cobalt), Cu = cuprum (copper), O = oxygen, Os = osmium, &c.
What he does not write here, is that the basis for his symbols is the Latin name of the element.

With some modifications, Berzelius's symbols are the ones that we use today. In the table below the names (in alphabetical order of their Latin name) and symbols are reproduced from Berzelius's article, with modifications indicated.
ElementBerz.present
AluminiumAl
Argentum (Silver)Ag
ArsenicAs
Aurum (Gold)Au
BariumBa
BismuthBi
BoronB
CalciumCa
CarbonC
CeriumCe
ChromiumChCr
CobaltCo
ColumbiumCl (Cb)Nb
Cuprum (Copper)Cu
Ferrum (Iron)Fe
Fluoric RadicleF
ElementBerz.present
GlucinumGlBe
Hydrargyrum (Mercury)Hg (Hy)Hg
HydrogeniumH
IridiumIIr
MagnesiumMsMg
ManganeseMa (Mn)Mn
MolybdenumMo
Muriatic Radicle (Chlorine)MCl
NickelNi
Nitric RadicleN
OsmiumOs
OxygeniumO
PalladiumPaPd
PhosphorusP
PlatinumPt
Plumbum (Lead)Pb (P)Pb
ElementBerz.present
PotassiumPoK
RhodiumRh (R)Rh
SiliciumSi
SodiumSoNa
Stibium (Antimony)*Sb (St)Sb
StrontiumSr
SulphurS
TelluriumTe
TinSn (St)Sn
TitaniumTi
TungstenTn (W)W
UraniumU
YttriumY
ZincZn
ZirconiumZr
The symbols used in his lengthy paper are not entirely consistent throughout. Between brackets are the symbols used in the text.

Further reading:

Periodical system

In the first decade of the nineteenth century, no less than fourteen new elements were added to the list. Davy alone had isolated no fewer than six by means of electrolysis. The haul in succeeding decades was not quite as rich, but the number of elements continued to mount. Berzelius discovered four more elements: Selenium, Silicon, Zirconium, and Thorium.

By 1830, fifty-five different elements were recognized. The number became too great for the comfort of chemists. The elements varied widely in properties and there seemed little order about them. Why were there so many? And how many more yet remained to be found? It was tempting to search for order in the list of elements already known. Perhaps in this manner some reason for the number of elements might be found and some way of accounting for the variation of properties that existed.

Several proposals were made to arrange the elements in a table:

Менделеев (Mendeleev) 1869 - 63 elements



Дмитрий Иванович Менделеев (Dmitrij Ivanovič Mendeleev) (1834-1907) (how to spell his name? click here) had in 1869 assembled detailed descriptions of more than 60 elements and, on 6 March 1869 a formal presentation was made to the Russian Chemical Society entitled "The Dependence Between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements." Unfortunately, Mendeleev was ill and the presentation was given by his colleague Professor Menshutken. The same year, a summary of this paper was published in German in the Zeitschrift für Chemie (note). There were eight points to his presentation:
  1. The elements, if arranged according to their atomic weights, exhibit an apparent periodicity of properties.
  2. Elements which are similar as regards their chemical properties have atomic weights which are either of nearly the same value (Pt, Ir, Os) or which increase regularly (K, Rb, Cs).
  3. The arrangement in the order of their atomic weights corresponds to the valencies of the elements and, to some extent, to their distinctive chemical properties, e.g. Li, Be, Ba, C, N, O, F.
  4. The elements which are the most widely diffused in nature have small atomic weights.
  5. The magnitude of the atomic weight determines the character of the element, just as the magnitude of the molecule determines the character of a compound body.
  6. The discovery of many as yet unknown elements is expected, for example, elements analogous to Si and Al, whose atomic weight would be between 65 and 75.
  7. Some atomic weights are expected to be corrected, for example, Te can not have the atomic weight 128, but it must lie between 123 and 126.
  8. From this table new analogies between elements can be foretold. So seems Bo (?) (in the table the symbol is Ur) analogous to B and Al, which, as is known, by experiments is proven.
He published his periodic table in The Principles of Chemistry (St. Petersburg, 1868-70).

Ti = 50Zr = 90? = 180
V = 51Nb = 94Ta = 182
Cr = 52Mo = 96W = 186
Mn = 55Rh = 104,4Pt = 197,4
Fe = 56Ru = 104,4Ir = 198
Ni=Co = 59Pl = 106,6Os = 199
H = 1Cu = 63,4Ag = 108Hg = 200
Be = 9,4Mg = 24Zn = 65,2Cd = 112
B = 11Al = 27,4? = 68Ur = 116Au = 197?
C = 12Si = 28? = 70Sn = 118
N = 14P = 31As = 75Sb = 122Bi = 210?
O = 16S = 32Se = 79,4Te = 128?
F = 19Cl = 35,5Br = 80I = 127
Li = 7Na = 23K = 39Rb = 85,4Cs = 133Tl = 204
Ca = 40Sr = 87,6Ba = 137Pb = 207
? = 45Ce = 92
?Er = 56La = 94
?Yt = 60Di = 95
?In = 75,6Th = 118?
(Mendeleev uses Pl for Pd; Ur for Uranium)

In 1871 Mendeleev published an updated version of his periodical table. He turned it 90 degrees:

I.

R2O
II.

RO
III.

R2O3
IV.
RH4
RO2
V.
RH3
R2O5
VI.
RH2
RO3
VII.
RH
R2O7
VIII.

RO4

1 H = 1
2 Li = 7 Be = 9,4 B = 11 C = 12 N = 14 O = 16 F = 19

3 Na = 23 Mg = 24 Al = 27,3 Si = 28 P = 31 S = 32 Cl = 35,5
4 K = 39 Ca = 40 – = 44 Ti = 48 V = 51 Cr = 52 Mn = 55 Fe = 56, Co = 59,
Ni = 59, Cu = 63
5 (Cu = 63) Zn = 65 – = 68 – = 72 As = 75 Se = 78 Br = 80
6 Rb = 85 Sr = 87 ?Yt = 88 Zr = 90 Nb = 94 Mo = 96 – = 100 Ru = 104, Rh = 104,
Pd = 106, Ag = 108
7 (Ag = 108) Cd = 112 In = 113 Sn = 118 Sb = 122 Te = 125 I= 127
8 Cs = 133 Ba = 137 ?Di = 138 ?Ce = 140 -  -  -  -
9 (–)
10 ?Er = 178 ??La = 180 Ta = 182 W = 184 Os = 195, Ir = 197,
Pt = 198, Au = 199
11 (Au = 199) Hg = 200 Tl = 204 Pb = 207 Bi = 208
12 Th = 231 U = 240
This table is from Mengyelejev periódusos rendszere (note).

On 29 November 1870, Mendeleev took his concept even further by stating that it was possible to predict the properties of undiscovered elements. He then proceeded to make predictions for three new elements (eka-aluminum, eka-boron and eka-silicon, red in the above table, "eka" = one (Sanskrite)) and suggested several properties of each, including density, radii, and combining ratios with oxygen, among others. The science world was perplexed, and many scoffed at Mendeleev's predictions.

It was not until November, 1875, when the Frenchman Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered one of the predicted elements (eka-aluminum) which he named Gallium, that Mendeleev's ideas were taken seriously. The other two elements were discovered later and their properties were found to be remarkably similar to those predicted by Mendeleev. These discoveries, verifying his predictions and substantiating his law, took him to the top of the science world. He was 35 years old when the initial paper was presented

There was a problem with Mendeleev's table. If the elements were arranged according to increasing atomic masses, Tellurium and Iodine seemed to be in the wrong columns. Their properties were different from those of other elements in the same column. However, they were next to each other. Switching their positions put them in the columns where they belonged according to their properties. If the switch were made, Mendeleev's basic assumption that the properties of the elements were a periodic function of their atomic masses would be wrong. Mendeleev assumed that the atomic masses of these two elements had been poorly measured. He thought that new mass measurements would prove his hypothesis to be correct. However, new measurements simply confirmed the original masses.

Soon, new elements were discovered, and two other pairs showed the same kind of reversal. Cobalt and Nickel were known by Mendeleev, but their atomic masses had not been accurately measured. When such a determination was made, it was found that their positions in the table were also reversed.

Henry Moseley 1913

When Argon was discovered, the masses of Argon and Potassium were reversed. Henry Moseley found the reason for these apparent exceptions to the rule. As a result of Moseley's work, the periodic law was revised. He stated that physical and chemical properties are a periodic function of their atomic number, rather than mass. This better explained the gaps in the table. The atomic number of an element indicates the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom of the element. The atomic number also indicates the number of electrons surrounding the nucleus. Herewith he created the modern periodic table in which each succeeding element has one more proton and electron than the former element.

Further reading (random selection):


© Peter van der Krogt