Celebrating #IYPT2019 in Cambridge

"Celebrating the Periodic Table" Exhibition, St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, 11th March - 5th April 2019.

Thumb michal filus portrait 4527 taken by gabriella bocchetti   university of cambridge
Mar 26, 2019
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As I currently live and work in Cambridge, being the place that is globally recognised by its leadership position and excellence in conducting high quality research, I was pleased to find out that there are plenty of events happening throughout the year to pay homage to the 150th anniversary of the publication of Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table. "Celebrating the Periodic Table" exhibition at St Catharine's College is one of these events. Last week I visited this exhibition and interviewed its curator, Dr Peter Wothers.

"Celebrating the Periodic Table" Exhibition, Ramsden Room, St Catharine's College, Cambridge

Through its fine collection of material relating to the early development of the periodic table, the exhibition tells an incredible story of how scientists tried to classify elements in the past. This story is truly about scientists making a lifelong commitment to science, challenging the current state of knowledge, making sense of the unknown, understanding caveats and uncertainties, and facing failures of their work being scrutinised and their efforts not being recognised.

Portrait of Antoine Lavoisier (left) and "Elementary Treatise on Chemistry" by Antoine Lavoisier (right)

The exhibition starts from the first list of elements which emerged around the time of the French Revolution in the late 18th century, and the first list of atomic masses drawn up by English chemist, John Dalton (see: Dalton's atomic theory). Then, items on display explore six different chemists from around the world who came up with their own versions of the periodic table. These remarkable items include: the incredibly rare Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois's vis tellurique (telluric screw) and John Alexander Newlands and William Odling's versions of the periodic table.    

Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois's telluric screw

A special space is then designated for the first edition of Dmitri Mendeleev's Principles of Chemistry where the periodic table of chemical elements was published for the very first time in 1869.

"Principles of Chemistry" (1st Edition) by Dmitri Mendeleev

The exhibition ends with unique pieces of art specially created to mark this important anniversary: a spiral sculpture based on Schaltenbrand's 1920 helical version of the periodic table and a macramé version containing more than 180,000 knots.

Spiral artwork based on Schaltenbrand's 1920 helical version of the periodic table, St Catharine's College


Other treasure items include a current version of the Mendeleev's periodic table signed by Professor Yuri Oganessian (who is the only living person with an element named after him - oganesson) and Professor Glenn Seaborg (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for discoveries in the chemistry of the first transuranium elements - a lead discoverer of 4 and co-discoverer of six elements).   

The current version of the periodic table of chemical elements, signed by Professor Yuri Oganessian

Interview with Dr Peter Wothers, curator of "Celebrating the Periodic Table" Exhibition


It was a pleasure to visit this exhibition as I learnt so much about 150 years of the periodic table. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in chemistry or the history of science to visit the exhibition - it is free and open till Friday 5th April 2019.

Medium michal filus portrait 4527 taken by gabriella bocchetti   university of cambridge

Michal Filus

Freelance Community Manager, Springer Nature

I am Freelance Community Manager for Nature Research Chemistry Community. With my scientific background and professional experience in public engagement and research impact within the UK university sector, I help drive engagement across Nature Research Chemistry Community and foster collaborations among chemical professionals.

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