Biography of Dmitri Mendeleev, Inventor of the Periodic Table

Dmitri Mendeleev

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Dmitri Mendeleev (February 8, 1834–February 2, 1907) was a Russian scientist best known for devising the modern periodic table of elements. Mendeleev also made major contributions to other areas of chemistry, metrology (the study of measurements), agriculture, and industry.

Fast Facts: Dmitri Mendeleev

  • Known For: Creating the Periodic Law and Periodic Table of the Elements
  • Born: February 8, 1834 in Verkhnie Aremzyani, Tobolsk Governorate, Russian Empire
  • Parents: Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev, Maria Dmitrievna Kornilieva
  • Died: February 2, 1907 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
  • Education: Saint Petersburg University
  • Published WorksPrinciples of Chemistry
  • Awards and Honors: Davy Medal, ForMemRS 
  • Spouse(s): Feozva Nikitichna Leshcheva, Anna Ivanovna Popova
  • Children: Lyubov, Vladimir, Olga, Anna, Ivan
  • Notable Quote: "I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary."

Early Life

Mendeleev was born on February 8, 1834, in Tobolsk, a town in Siberia, Russia. He was the youngest of a large Russian Orthodox Christian family. The exact size of the family is a matter of dispute, with sources putting the number of siblings between 11 and 17. His father was Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev, a glass manufacturer, and his mother was Dmitrievna Kornilieva.

In the same year that Dmitri was born, his father went blind. He died in 1847. His mother took on the management of the glass factory, but it burned down just a year later. To provide her son with an education, Dmitri's mother brought him to St. Petersburg and enrolled him in the Main Pedagogical Institute. Soon after, Dmitri's mother died.

Education

Dmitri graduated from the Institute in 1855 and then went on to earn a masters degree in education. He received a fellowship from the government to continue his studies and moved to the University of Heidelberg in Germany. There, he decided not to work with Bunsen and Erlenmeyer, two distinguished chemists, and instead set up his own laboratory at home. He attended the International Chemistry Congress and met many of Europe's top chemists.

In 1861, Dmitri went back to St. Petersburg to earn his P.hd. He then became a chemistry professor at the University of St. Petersburg. He continued to teach there until 1890.

The Periodic Table of the Elements

Dmitri found it hard to find a good chemistry textbook for his classes, so he wrote his own. While writing his textbook, Principles of Chemistry, Mendeleev found that if you arrange the elements in order of increasing atomic mass, their chemical properties demonstrated definite trends. He called this discovery the Periodic Law, and stated it in this way: "When the elements are arranged in order of increasing atomic mass, certain sets of properties recur periodically."

Drawing on his understanding of element characteristics, Mendeleev arranged the known elements in an eight-column grid. Each column represented a set of elements with similar qualities. He called the grid the periodic table of the elements. He presented his grid and his periodic law to the Russian Chemical Society in 1869.

The only real difference between his table and the one we use today is that Mendeleev's table ordered elements by increasing atomic weight, while the present table is ordered by increasing atomic number.

Mendeleev's table had blank spaces where he predicted three unknown elements, which turned out to be germanium, gallium, and scandium. Based on the periodic properties of the elements, as shown in the table, Mendeleev predicted properties of eight elements in total, which had not even been discovered.

Writing and Industry

While Mendeleev is remembered for his work in chemistry and the formation of the Russian Chemical Society, he had many other interests. He wrote more than 400 books and articles on topics in popular science and technology. He wrote for ordinary people, and helped create a "library of industrial knowledge."

He worked for the Russian government and became the director of the Central Bureau of Weights and Measures. He became very interested in the study of measures and did a great deal of research on the subject. Later, he published a journal.

In addition to his interests in chemistry and technology, Mendeleev was interested in helping to develop Russian agriculture and industry. He traveled around the world to learn about the petroleum industry and helped Russia to develop its oil wells. He also worked to develop the Russian coal industry.

Marriage and Children

Mendeleev was married twice. He wed Feozva Nikitchna Leshcheva in 1862, but the couple divorced after 19 years. He married Anna Ivanova Popova the year after the divorce, in 1882. He had a total of six children from these marriages.

Death

In 1907 at age 72, Mendeleev died from the flu. He was living in St. Petersburg at the time. His last words, spoken to his doctor, reportedly were, "Doctor, you have science, I have faith." This may have been a quote from the famous French writer Jules Verne.

Legacy

Mendeleev, despite his achievements, never won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In fact, he was passed over for the honor twice. He was, however, awarded the prestigious Davy Medal (1882) and ForMemRS (1892).

The Periodic Table did not gain acceptance among chemists until Mendeleev's predictions for new elements were shown to be correct. After gallium was discovered in 1879 and germanium in 1886, it was clear that the table was extremely accurate. By the time of Mendeleev's death, the Periodic Table of Elements was internationally recognized as one of the most important tools ever created for the study of chemistry.

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