One of the great accomplishments of science has been the organizing of the elements into a form that allows us to use chemistry in amazing ways. In 1789 Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 elements grouping them into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths. For the next 100 years, chemists searched for a better classification system. As the understanding of the design of atoms improved, scientists developed the periodic table of elements.
In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev published the first table designed to show periodic changes in the properties of the elements. He was even able to predict the discovery of elements unknown at the time that would fill out his chart. As scientists further refined the periodic table of elements, it became even more useful. The horizontal rows are called periods, with metals on the left and nonmetals on the right. As you move from left to right in a period, the elements become less metallic. As you move from top to bottom, the columns, called groups, have similar properties. All of the elements in the last group on the right side of the chart are called noble gases, and they are chemically inactive. The next vertical column to the left of noble gases is called the halogens. They have similar chemical properties, such as the ability to support combustion.
We now know that the reason the periodic table of elements works is because of the electron configurations of the atoms. Chlorine, for example, has an electron configuration that leaves it one electron short of a stable chemical structure. It will exert tremendous force to get a single electron to make its electron configuration stable. Sodium has an extra electron that it would really like to get rid of to gain stability. Those two elements react so that sodium transfers its electron to chlorine and the compound that results is salt – NaCl. Every element in the vertical group with sodium will also react with chlorine in the same way, making lithium chloride, potassium chloride, rubidium chloride, etc.
We now have 118 confirmed elements in existence with 94 occurring naturally. Scientists have produced the remaining 24 elements in laboratories with nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson being the most recent. It is difficult to think about atoms and understand how their electrons control their uses and not be impressed by the mind that created this incredibly complex system.
This is a very brief over simplification explanation of the periodic table of elements. It just begins to suggest how the electrons are organized into shells and subshells. The system allows different methods of bonding elements together, creating a diverse population of new compounds that make our lives not only comfortable but possible. For a better understanding, enroll in a basic chemistry class at your local community college or university. “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NIV).
— John N. Clayton © 2019