Sigma Xi Publications



American Scientist

150 Years of the Periodic Table: Did Sanskrit influence the way we arrange the elements?

In 1869, 150 years ago, chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev developed his first version of the periodic table of the elements. Mendeleev wasn’t the only scientist trying to organize the elements, and many scientists have contributed to the periodic table since (in the cover background are Lothar Meyer, Ida Noddack, and John Newlands). But as Abhik Ghosh and Paul Kiparsky note in Perspective, the 150th anniversary is worth celebrating because of Mendeleev's appreciation of the elements’ periodic properties; he left gaps in his table for elements not discovered yet. Mendeleev used Sanskrit names of numbers to mark these gaps. Why not Latin, or Greek, or German? In “The Grammar of the Elements,” Ghosh and Kiparsky make a compelling case that Mendeleev was exposed to Sanskrit and the grammar of that ancient language could have influenced his organizational thinking about the periodic table. (Artwork by Wayne Brezinka.)

November–December 2019

Sigma Xi Publications