The concept of major scientific advances occurring as a short-term ‘revolutionary’ change in thinking interspersed by long periods of so-called ‘normal’ science seems to be losing ground to more ecological models, which are more inimical of the twists and turns of life. From this idea it is a short step to charting science’s progress against stages used in fictional storytelling, which after all is life-based. This paper explores the development of the periodic table in terms of the achievement of a fictional ‘quest’, and finds the stages of such a story are well represented. While Mendeleev or perhaps Meyer might be considered by some to be the hero of the quest, its first stage—the call—is represented by the Karlsruhe conference in 1860, with an international cast of ‘companions’ and ‘helpers’ who contributed to the Table’s early development. The ‘journey’ may have been frustrated by lack of appropriate data and understanding of concepts, but the ‘arrival’ phase is clearly marked by the award of the Davy medal jointly to Mendeleev and Meyer in 1882, Throughout these stages there are lesser, although still significant contributions made by “little people” of science to the overall progress of the Table. The end of the journey is not the end of the quest: the discovery of new elements—“new ordeals”—and their incorporation into an increasing range of types and styles of periodic table, which—akin to the “life-renewing goal” of the fictional quest—continue.
Foundations of Chemistry – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 20, 2017
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