This year marks the 150th anniversary of that colourful chart on your science classroom wall. Yep, the periodic table of the elements.
It might seem pretty unremarkable to some, but the 19th century development of the periodic table by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev marks an important moment in science history. It meant that scientists began to look at the relationship of elements at a fundamental level.
They began to group like elements together to form a classifying system that works on three separate levels, predicting how elements might react or behave in scientific experiments.
“Without the Periodic Table, studying chemistry would be much more difficult, as we wouldn’t be able to see the patterns that tell us how different elements behave,” says Curtin University’s Professor Mark Ogden.
“When Mendeleev published his table 150 years ago, not only did it bring some order to the confusing differences between the elements known at that time, it predicted the existence of elements that were yet to be discovered. That started a journey that has taken us from the 63 elements in Mendeleev’s original Table, to the 118 elements we know today.”
With the periodic table in tow, chemists and scientists since 1869 have developed some pretty remarkable technology like creating LCD screens for televisions and smartphones. Arguably, these chemical feats of invention would have been impossible (or at least, taken many more years to develop) without this essential chemical cheat sheet we all know and love.
So, in celebration of the periodic table, here’s 3 tech inventions that might not be around today if it weren’t for Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements.
1. LCD screens
Did you know that ‘LCD’ stands for ‘liquid crystal display’? Turns out there’s a ton of sophisticated chemistry behind your smartphone and television screens! LCD screens don’t actually emit light, they are a thin layer of liquid crystals on top of a layer of LED lights. The crystals can either appear clear or solid, depending on the electrical charge running through them. It’s this manipulation of light, over and over again that gives you your crystal-clear and picture.
The element fluorine is an essential ingredient in stabilising the crystals, so without understanding fluorine’s chemical properties, we might not have LCD screens around today.
Tough smartphone displays
Yep, even the smash-proof glass atop your smartphone is the result of sophisticated chemistry. It’s called ‘Gorilla Glass‘ – and for good reason. This ‘ceramic glass’ is made using an oxide of silicon and aluminium, and once fortified by a toasty bath in 300°C molten potassium salt, it can withstand up to 100,000 pounds of pressure per square inch!
Without a handy chart telling scientists exactly how this reaction would occur, we might have a lot more broken smartphone screens on our hands…
Ok, we haven’t exactly saved the most exciting tech for last. But think about how essential batteries are to every tech experience you have. Without a battery, your phone would need to be plugged into the wall 24-7.
Different batteries call for different elements used within them. Some iPhone batteries like the iPhone 5 battery use the element lithium to power up, while alkaline batteries (like the ones you put in the back of a TV remote) use manganese to create a reaction between zinc and manganese dioxide in order to produce energy. On the bigger scale, batteries that provide enough power for a town’s backup power source often rely on a reaction between sulfur and sodium.
Without the periodic table, these batteries would have taken many years longer to invent – if at all!
What has chemistry created that you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments!
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.