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New Graphical Representation of the Periodic Table 140

KentuckyFC writes "The great power of Mendeleev's periodic table was that it allowed him to predict the properties of undiscovered elements. But can this arrangement be improved? Two new envisionings of the periodic table attempt to do just that. The first uses a new graphical representation that shows the relative sizes of atoms as well as their groups and periods. The other uses the same kind of group theoretical approach that particle physicists developed to classify particles by their symmetries (abstract). That helped particle physicists predict the existence of new particles, but may have limited utility for chemists who seem to have discovered (or predicted) all of the elements they need already."
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New Graphical Representation of the Periodic Table

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  • Call me a cynic.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Afforess ( 1310263 ) <> on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @05:14PM (#29663051) Journal
    but that design doesn't look much better than the current one. In fact, it looks worse. Helium and Hydrogen overlap, and part of the table is cut off completely. Some might whine that part of the table is cut off in the current version too, but that's just to make it fit on a page, it actually is one contiguous body.

    I believe the age-old axiom "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" applies here.
  • by Afforess ( 1310263 ) <> on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @05:30PM (#29663259) Journal
    To quote someone far more famous than I,
    "Form follows Function"

    The current version is very useful. One can tell which atom is larger than another by simply looking down the column of the element, or across the period (row). The Electron Affinity increases across the period, and up the columns. Many periodic trends can easily be told by the current chart. It is extremely helpful and useful in that regard.

    Should we throw away all that usefulness in the name of "fresh" and "new" ideas? I think not.
  • by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @05:33PM (#29663305)

    the table can be improved by arranging it in circular form. He says this gives a sense of the relative size of atoms--the closer to the centre, the smaller they are--something that is missing from the current form of the table. ... And by placing hydrogen and helium near the centre, Abubakr says this solves the problem of whether to put hydrogen with the halogens or alkali metals and of whther to put helium in the 2nd group or with the inert gases.

    The atom size thing is no more present in the circular table than in the normal table. If distance from the center correlates with size, then Li and Ne are the same size according to the circular table. Lithium is about twice as big.

    As for the H/He placement, helium is a noble gas, there is no question about that.

    The circle table also mucks up the order of filling. Why are neon and lithium next to each other?

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @05:39PM (#29663369)

    The new table that came out of Microsoft Research just seems silly. The idea that "closer to the middle means smaller atoms" is a new contribution seems bogus - with the traditional table, closer to the top means smaller atoms. Really the only advantage I can see is the separation of hydrogen and helium away from the other atom groups, which is something that could be easily accomplished using the current table. The circular design itself is a BIG disadvantage.

    The second table seems like a more interesting concept. I tried making it through the actual paper - while it sounds like the author thinks the information conveyed in his redesign are better than in the current layout, I didn't see that it actually conveyed new information.

    Disclaimer: I have done grad work in physics; but that was almost 20 years ago, and I don't work in anything even close to the field anymore.

  • by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @05:52PM (#29663523)

    The chemical properties of the elements are almost entirely based on how full the electron shells are, and I think a circular diagram represents that better.

    Concentric circles don't show that any better than rows do. What rows do better is clearly indicate that the shells get filled in a certain order (left to right). Looking at the circle table, which has more electrons, Li or Ne? F or Ne? Is that intuitive or better?

  • by residieu ( 577863 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @07:57PM (#29664703)
    Why is "Towards the center is the smaller" easier than "The top is smaller"? The other trend in atomic sizes is size decreases as you go, right, and this new chart totally destroys that. It looks like Lithium and Neon should be similar in size (since they're right next to each other), but Lithium is the largest in its row and Neon the smallest. If they wanted to show the center is smaller, they shouldn't have shown the elements in circular rings, but as sort of a spiral-shape. All the Noble gases should be shown as closer to the center than the Alkali Metals (Lithium and its column, excluding Hydrogen)
  • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @08:05PM (#29664761)
    The second table and the ideas surrounding it are really restatements of the theoretical basis for the rules of electron configuration (the Aufbau principle). As a consquence of following Fermi-Dirac statistics, a lot of properties for electrons fall naturally out of associated symmetry groups, including quantum numbers and the Pauli exclusion principle. So in Kibler's group theory representation, elements are really just sorted by arrangment of quantum number, which is really just an alternative positioning of what we'd consider the s-, p-, d-, and f- "blocks" of elements in the current table. The group theory table is interesting in that it makes the group theory underpinnings of the periodic table more clear, but those foundations have been known since about 1930.
  • by Lucent ( 18019 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @08:30PM (#29664931) Homepage Journal

    Being weird is an automatic handicap. The current layout provides a wealth of data in a grid, something that can be represented in the simplest of data structures. If you're going to switch to circular and have strange shapes and free-floating elements, you need to make up for all the complexity you've added by showing significantly more correlation. This does not in the least. If you want to see alternative layouts that really give the current a run for its money [], check out Stowe's [].

  • by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @03:58AM (#29667285)
    The current one doesn't give the sizes of the atoms because the size DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER IN MOST CASES. Size generally has not a whole lot to do with any properties. Any size-based properties are very general. e.g. "Very big atoms are unstable". It does you very little to no good to know if one atom is SLIGHTLY larger/smaller than another. You can get the difference between "very big" and "very small" with the current table, and because that's all that matters, the current table is just fine.

    I can't even read half of the circular table because it's UPSIDE FUCKING DOWN. What a stupid way to represent something. I suppose that if the creator spent more than 10 fucking seconds working on it then they might have realized that they could have flipped the upper half upside down again to make ALL of the elements readable. Of course, that still doesn't help the fact that I don't know where the periods begin or end. It's a circle, there's no start or end part marked. The current table has these nifty things called ROWS and COLUMNS (or periods and groups respectively, for those of you that actually paid any attention in chemistry).

    "And the gaps create an immediate sense of wonder." That's CONFUSION, not wonder. The periodic table is a reference and a tool, not a motivational poster or something that should create "wonder". I don't know what field you work in, but I'm going to guess that you use one or more reference books on a regular basis. Imagine taking these reference books, flipping half the pages upside down, and reorganizing the entire thing to make it half as useful but make you "wonder" more. Does that sound like a good idea? Of course not!

    Imagine saying, "HEY! Let's take the charts that machinists use to convert between metric, standard, and decimal standard and make them into a circle to illustrate the fact that diameters are related to circles!" You'd be shot, and rightfully so. Imagine taking the dictionary and reorganizing it by which words evoke which emotions rather than by alphabetical order. Same thing.

    And you seem to assume that the periodic table is only used by "today's youth". The periodic table is used by ANY CHEMIST doing ANY CHEMISTRY WORK. Again, it's a bloody reference tool. The only reason you assume that most of the people that use the periodic table are children is because you're ignorant of what it actually is or what it's actually used for. You saw it in high school, have never used it since (not surprising if you don't work in a chemistry-related job), but never really stopped to think what it actually is other than a worthless table you had to look at in class.
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:24AM (#29668909) Homepage Journal

    I believe the age-old axiom "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" applies here.

    That maxim is from the uneducated; it actually should read "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But it seldom applies in real life. One needs to do maintenance on nearly any system; you don't wait until your car quits running before you replace the spark plugs, for example.

    And if that maxim was universally followed, there would be no technological progress at all. "This device works fine, don't improve it."

    However, some "improvements" are like trying to increase your car's gas mileage by taking out half the spark plugs. This chart seems to be like that. Perhaps there is a better way to make the table, but I agree, this isn't it.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:33AM (#29669019) Homepage Journal

    To quote someone far more famous than I,
    "Form follows Function"

    That's the first rule of design (programmers, PLEASE learn that rule!). I never heard who was the originator. So I just now looked it up on Wikipedia. []

    Origins of the phrase
    The authorship of the phrase is often ascribed to the American sculptor Horatio Greenough[2], whose thinking to a large extent predates the later functionalist approach to architecture. It was, however, the American architect Louis Sullivan who coined the phrase, in 1896, in his article The tall office building artistically considered. Here Sullivan actually said 'form ever follows function', but the simpler (and less emphatic) phrase is the one usually remembered. For Sullivan this was distilled wisdom, an aesthetic credo, the single "rule that shall permit of no exception". The full quote is thus:

    It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
    Of all things physical and metaphysical,
    Of all things human and all things super-human,
    Of all true manifestations of the head,
    Of the heart, of the soul,
    That the life is recognizable in its expression,
    That form ever follows function. This is the law.[3]

    Sullivan developed the shape of the tall steel skyscraper in late 19th Century Chicago at the very moment when technology, taste and economic forces converged violently and made it necessary to drop the established styles of the past. If the shape of the building wasn't going to be chosen out of the old pattern book something had to determine form, and according to Sullivan it was going to be the purpose of the building. It was 'form follows function', as opposed to 'form follows precedent'. Sullivan's assistant Frank Lloyd Wright adopted and professed the same principle in slightly different form--perhaps because shaking off the old styles gave them more freedom and latitude.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"