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creator of the periodic table
Early Life and Education
Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was born in Tobolsk, Siberia, on February 8, 1834 (January 27, 1834, old style), the youngest of as many as 16 children (the exact number is unknown) of Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev, a teacher, and Maria Dmitrievna (Kornilieva) Mendeleev. When his father became blind and unable to work, his mother restarted her family's glass factory in order to replace the lost income. His father died when Mendeleev was 13, the glass factory burned down when he was 15, and at 16 his mother moved the remainder of her family to Saint Petersburg, then the capital of Russia. There, he was able to gain admission to his father's old college, the Main Pedagogical Institute.
Although he contracted tuberculosis during his final year and often had to work from bed, Mendeleev still graduated top in his class, in 1855. He then took a job teaching science in Simferopol, Crimea, where he was also able to regain his health. He entered the University of Saint Petersburg in 1856, and was awarded his master's degree later that same year. Between 1859 and 1861, he worked on the capillarity of liquids and studied chemical spectroscopy in Heidelberg, Germany. His first book, on the spectroscope, was published in 1861.
In 1863, Mendeleev married Feozva Nikitchna Lascheva. Although the couple had two children, a boy named Volodya and a daughter named Olga, Mendeleev never really loved Feozva and spent as little time with her as possible. He divorced her in 1882 in order to marry his niece's best friend, Anna Ivanova Popova, with whom he had four children -- Liubov, Ivan, and twins Vassili and Maria. This marriage lasted until his death.
Work and Research
In 1860, Mendeleev attended the first ever international chemistry conference, in Karlsruhe, Germany. Much of the conferences time was spent discussing the need to standardize chemistry, a need which ultimately led to the work for which he is today best known. After returning to Saint Petersburg in 1861 to teach at the Technical Institute, he immediately set to work on improving Russian language chemistry textbooks. In just 61 days the 27-year-old chemist poured out his knowledge in a 500 page textbook, Organic Chemistry (1861), which won the Domidov Prize and put Mendeleev at the forefront of Russian chemical education. He was made a professor at the Institute in 1863. After the defense of his doctoral dissertation in 1865, he was appointed professor of chemical technology at the University of Saint Petersburg, and was awarded the Chair of General Chemistry there in 1867. In 1868, Mendeleev published The Principles of Chemistry in 1868. Not only did this textbook prove popular in Russia, it was popular elsewhere too, appearing in English, French and German translations.
While working on The Principles of Chemistry, Mendeleev wrote the names of all the known elements on cards, one element per card. Each card also included the element's atomic weight, as well as its fundamental properties. As he did so, he began to see that the "behavior" of the elements seemed to repeat as their atomic weights increased. Convinced that he was close to discovering something significant, he spent several hours rearranging the cards until he succeeded in organizing them into groups possessing similar properties.
On March 6, 1869, a formal presentation was made to the Russian Chemical Society entitled "The Dependence Between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements." Mendeleev was ill, so the presentation was given by a colleague. In it, he showed how the elements could be organized. He also used his periodic table to propose that some of the elements, whose behavior did not agree with his predictions, must have had their atomic weights measured incorrectly. He then proceeded to make predictions for three new elements (which he called eka-aluminum, eka-boron and eka-silicon) and suggested several properties of each, including density, radii, and combining ratios with oxygen, among others.
Mendeleev's periodic table was largely ignored by the scientific community until 1875, when French chemist Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered one of the predicted elements (eka-aluminum), which he named gallium (Ga, #31 on the periodic table). The other two elements were discovered later (scandium in 1879 and germanium in 1886) and their properties were found to be remarkably similar to those predicted by Mendeleev. For his work on the Periodic Law, he was awarded the Davy medal of the Royal Society in 1882, and in 1905 he received its Copley medal.
One of the founding members of the Russian Chemical Society (in 1868), Mendeleev pursued a wide variety of scientific interests. Many of his research findings dealt with agricultural chemistry, oil refining, and mineral recovery. He pursued studies on the properties and behavior of gases at high and low pressures, which led to his development of a very accurate differential barometer and further studies in meteorology. Mendeleev also devoted much study to the nature of such "indefinite" compounds as solutions, investigated the expansion of liquids with heat, and even conducted studies on and with balloons.
Later Life and Death
Mendeleev resigned from Saint Petersburg University in 1890 after the Minister of Education refused to acknowledge a student petition demanding changes at the university. In 1893, he was appointed Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, where he remained until his death. He died of influenza in Saint Petersburg on February 2, 1907 (January 20, 1907, old style), and was buried in Volkovskoye Memorial Cemetery.
Element 101 is named Mendelevium in his honor.
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This page was last updated on 04/26/2017.