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Letter

This year isn’t only the 50th anniversary of the first moon walk, it’s also the 150th anniversary of probably the greatest breakthrough in the study of chemistry, the invention of the periodic table of elements.

A Russian, Dmitri Mendeleev — a man from the West Siberian town of Tobolsk on the Irtysh River, a tributary of the mighty Ob — devised it.

The “Mad Monk,” Rasputin, who had such strong sway on Russian policy through his attachment to the Russian Tsarina (queen) Alexandra Fedorovna, came from the village of Pokrovskoye, shortly west of Tobolsk.

Mendeleev was a professor of chemistry at the University of St. Petersburg. To show students the concept of “periodicity,” i.e., that each eighth element has similar properties to each preceding or following eighth element, he arranged a few elements in a chart with vertical columns and this system is still in use. The elements were ranked by atomic weight.

Seventy elements were known in 1869. Mendeleev predicted eight more and their properties, later to be discovered.

Elements were found at a rate of roughly one per year. Gallium, Scandium and Germanium were so determined.

The period table sparked great interest with the public, leading to a deep understanding of matter.

Mendeleev was born on the same day of the year as I was, Jan. 27, according to the modern Gregorian calendar, which was adopted in Russia in, I believe, 1918. (Earlier the Russians went by the older Julian calendar which has the same dates, 13 days later). Also, Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic, Lewis Carol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, AFL-CIO founder Samuel Gompers and Wm. Randolph Hearst Jr. were all born on Jan. 27. There’s others, I’ve read, but I can’t recall all of them.

Atomic number was discovered by the short-lived English scientist, Henry Moseley, who was killed by a Turkish bullet at the Battle of Gallipoli, and after that the British got much pickier about who they allowed in the army. Moseley was 27 years old when he got killed.

Lee Onishuk,

Missoula

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