by Nicola Bonardi Rivard

There’s only one thing that remains universal in every science classroom around the world: the sometimes-tattered canvas with the 118 elements in their ordered squares.

The periodic table is a universal symbol of scientific ingenuity and complexity, but its founder is often left in the shadows. This month, we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the chemist who discovered the periodic table of elements and his illustrious journey to becoming one of the greatest thinkers of modern times.

All his siblings having died, the lone survivor, Dmitri Mendeleev (also known as Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev), was born in 1834 to Ivan and Mariya. His father died just three years after his son’s birth, which spurred Mariya to start managing her own glass factory, which later burned down. After this set of events, Mariya decided to take her sole son and move to St. Petersburg. Mendeleev’s mother succumbed soon after his graduation from the Main Pedagological Institute in 1855. Following a short stint in Odessa, Mendeleev pursued research in inorganic chemistry while being funded by a governmental fellowship. His research led him to minds such as Robert Bunsen and August Kekulé, while his travels took him to Karlsruhe for a congress about elements and their atomic properties (he would say the conference was a major inspiration for his later research). Spurred by his colleagues and his own curiosity, Mendeleev would dive into his work and the future.

Having been awarded the Demidov Prize for one text, Mendeleev dug into his literary depths to create The Principles of Chemistry, which would be first published in 1868.. He noticed similarities between the halogen gases and the metals in his writings. This led him down a chemical rabbit hole of alkalis and chemical properties, which then marshaled him to what we know today as the classification of elements. Using a diagram, he organised the known elements by their atomic weight and even successfully predicted elements that were still unknown at the time. He then had only seventy elements, which were presented to the Russian Chemical Societies in the late 1870s, though this didn’t garner much acceptance or interest in the scientific community. His periodic table was accepted on the international stage only after his predictions were proven right (time and time again!).

The periodic table isn’t the only gift Mendeleev left the scientific community, the great thinker also participated in the physical sciences with research into matter phases, and in the early 1870s, he studied the application of external factors on said phases. Mendeleev tried to combine Newton’s theories with his own, for which he never found a complete solution (his theorem postulating the existence of ether, a new form of matter, was later disproven).

Even when Mendeleev wasn’t in a lab coat, he sought to integrate Russian science into the unique American system. He was in fact the director of the preeminent metrology bureau in Russia (metrology being the science of incertitude in scientific findings). He profoundly improved the Russian teams’ capabilities by integrating modern equipment and providing strong leadership to a nation still behind when it came to scientific frameworks.

In conclusion, as he grew older, Mendeleev’s achievements became more and more important. Before his death in 1907, Mendeleev would receive honours from Oxford and Cambridge, as well as an award from the Royal Society of London. This great thinker’s life could perhaps best be remembered by one of his greatest maxims: ‘‘Science, which deals with the infinite, is itself without bounds.’’


[1] Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette. (2023). Dmitri Mendeleev. Britannica.

Historical and Public Figures Collection. (2011). Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. New York Public Library Archives.

[2] J.C. Brown, Richard, (2021). Measuring measurement – What is metrology and why does it matter. National Library of Medicine.,of%20all%20practical%20scientific%20endeavours

[3] Historical and Public Figures Collection. (2011). Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. New York Public Library Archives.

[4] N/A. (N/A). Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. Today In Science History.

[5] (N/A). (2021). Dmitri Mendeleev. Biography.

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