Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (/ˌmɛndəlˈeɪəf/ MEN-dəl-AY-əf; Russian: Дми́трий Ива́нович Менделе́ев, IPA: [ˈdmʲitrʲɪj ɪˈvanəvʲɪtɕ mʲɪndʲɪˈlʲejɪf] ( ); 8 February 1834 – 2 February 1907 O.S. 27 January 1834 – 20 January 1907) was a Russian chemist and inventor. He formulated the Periodic Law, created a farsighted version of the periodic table of elements, and used it to correct the properties of some already discovered elements and also to predict the properties of eight elements yet to be discovered.
Mendeleev was born in the village of Verkhnie Aremzyani, near Tobolsk in Siberia, to Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev (1783—1847) and Maria Dmitrievna Mendeleeva (née Kornilieva) (1793—1850). His paternal grandfather Pavel Maximovich Sokolov was a Russian Orthodox priest from the Tver region. Ivan, along with his brothers and sisters, obtained new family names while attending the theological seminary. He worked as a school principle and a teacher of fine arts, politics and philosophy at the Tambov and Saratov gymnasiums.
Maria Kornilieva came from a well-known dynasty of Tobolsk merchants, founders of the first Siberian printing house who traced their ancestry to Yakov Korniliev, a 17th century posad man turned a wealthy merchant. In 1889 a local librarian published an article in the Tobolsk newspaper where he claimed that Yakov was a baptized Teleut, an ethnic minority known as "white Kalmyks" at the time. Since no sources were provided and no documented facts of Yakov's life were ever revealed, biographers generally dismiss it as a myth. In 1908, shortly after Mendeleev's death, one of his nieces published Family Chronicles. Memories about D. I. Mendeleev where she voiced "a family legend" about Maria's grandfather who married "a Kyrgyz or Tatar beauty whom he loved so much that when she died, he also died from grief". This, however, contradicts the documented family chronicles, and neither of those legends is supported by Mendeleev's autobiography, his daughter's or his wife's memoirs. Yet some Western scholars still refer to Mendeleev's supposed "Mongol", "Tatar", "Tartarian" or simply "Asian" ancestry as a fact.
Mendeleev was raised as an Orthodox Christian, his mother encouraging him to "patiently search divine and scientific truth." His son would later inform that he departed from the Church and embraced a form of "romanticized deism".
Mendeleev was the youngest of 17 siblings, of whom "only 14 stayed alive to be baptized" according to Mendeleev's brother Pavel, meaning they died soon after their birth. The exact number of Mendeleev's siblings differs among sources and is still a matter of some historical dispute. Unfortunately for the family's financial well being, his father became blind and lost his teaching position. His mother was forced to work and she restarted her family's abandoned glass factory. At the age of 13, after the passing of his father and the destruction of his mother's factory by fire, Mendeleev attended the Gymnasium in Tobolsk.
In 1849, his mother took Mendeleev across Russia from Siberia to Moscow with the aim of getting Mendeleev a higher education. The university in Moscow did not accept him. The mother and son continued to Saint Petersburg to the father’s alma mater. The now poor Mendeleev family relocated to Saint Petersburg, where he entered the Main Pedagogical Institute in 1850. After graduation, he contracted tuberculosis, causing him to move to the Crimean Peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea in 1855. While there, he became a science master of the Simferopol gymnasium №1. In 1857, he returned to Saint Petersburg with fully restored health.
Between 1859 and 1861, he worked on the capillarity of liquids and the workings of the spectroscope in Heidelberg. Later in 1861, he published a textbook named Organic Chemistry. This won him the Demidov Prize of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
Mendeleev became a professor at the Saint Petersburg Technological Institute and Saint Petersburg State University in 1864, and 1865, respectively. In 1865 he became Doctor of Science for his dissertation "On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol". He achieved tenure in 1867 at St. Petersburg University and started to teach inorganic chemistry, while succeeding Voskresenskii to this post. and by 1871 he had transformed Saint Petersburg into an internationally recognized center for chemistry research.
In 1876, he became obsessed with Anna Ivanova Popova and began courting her; in 1881 he proposed to her and threatened suicide if she refused. His divorce from Leshcheva was finalized one month after he had married Popova (on 2 April) in early 1882. Even after the divorce, Mendeleev was technically a bigamist; the Russian Orthodox Church required at least seven years before lawful remarriage. His divorce and the surrounding controversy contributed to his failure to be admitted to the Russian Academy of Sciences (despite his international fame by that time). His daughter from his second marriage, Lyubov, became the wife of the famous Russian poet Alexander Blok. His other children were son Vladimir (a sailor, he took part in the notable Eastern journey of Nicholas II) and daughter Olga, from his first marriage to Feozva, and son Ivan and twins from Anna.
Though Mendeleev was widely honored by scientific organizations all over Europe, including (in 1882) the Davy Medal from the Royal Society of London (which later also awarded him the Copley Medal in 1905), he resigned from Saint Petersburg University on 17 August 1890. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1892, and in 1893 he was appointed director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, a post which he occupied until his death.
Mendeleev also investigated the composition of petroleum, and helped to found the first oil refinery in Russia. He recognized the importance of petroleum as a feedstock for petrochemicals. He is credited with a remark that burning petroleum as a fuel "would be akin to firing up a kitchen stove with bank notes."
In 1905, Mendeleev was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The following year the Nobel Committee for Chemistry recommended to the Swedish Academy to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1906 to Mendeleev for his discovery of the periodic system. The Chemistry Section of the Swedish Academy supported this recommendation. The Academy was then supposed to approve the Committee's choice, as it has done in almost every case. Unexpectedly, at the full meeting of the Academy, a dissenting member of the Nobel Committee, Peter Klason, proposed the candidacy of Henri Moissan whom he favored. Svante Arrhenius, although not a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, had a great deal of influence in the Academy and also pressed for the rejection of Mendeleev, arguing that the periodic system was too old to acknowledge its discovery in 1906. According to the contemporaries, Arrhenius was motivated by the grudge he held against Mendeleev for his critique of Arrhenius's dissociation theory. After heated arguments, the majority of the Academy voted for Moissan. The attempts to nominate Mendeleev in 1907 were again frustrated by the absolute opposition of Arrhenius.
In 1863 there were 56 known elements with a new element being discovered at a rate of approximately one per year. Other scientists had previously identified periodicity of elements. John Newlands described a Law of Octaves, noting their periodicity according to relative atomic weight in 1864, publishing it in 1865. His proposal identified the potential for new elements such as germanium. The concept was criticized and his innovation was not recognized by the Society of Chemists until 1887. Another person to propose a periodic table was Lothar Meyer, who published a paper in 1864 describing 28 elements classified by their valence, but with no prediction of new elements.
After becoming a teacher in 1867, Mendeleev wrote the definitive textbook of his time: Principles of Chemistry (two volumes, 1868–1870). It was written as he was preparing a textbook for his course. This is when he made his most important discovery. As he attempted to classify the elements according to their chemical properties, he noticed patterns that led him to postulate his periodic table; he claimed to have envisioned the complete arrangement of the elements in a dream:
"I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary."— Mendeleev, as quoted by Inostrantzev
Unaware of the earlier work on periodic tables going on in the 1860s, he made the following table:
|Cl 35.5||K 39||Ca 40|
|Br 80||Rb 85||Sr 88|
|I 127||Cs 133||Ba 137|
By adding additional elements following this pattern, Dmitri developed his extended version of the periodic table. On 6 March 1869, Mendeleev made a formal presentation to the Russian Chemical Society, titled The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements, which described elements according to both atomic weight and valence. This presentation stated that
- The elements, if arranged according to their atomic weight, exhibit an apparent periodicity of properties.
- Elements which are similar regarding their chemical properties either have similar atomic weights (e.g., Pt, Ir, Os) or have their atomic weights increasing regularly (e.g., K, Rb, Cs).
- The arrangement of the elements in groups of elements in the order of their atomic weights corresponds to their so-called valencies, as well as, to some extent, to their distinctive chemical properties; as is apparent among other series in that of Li, Be, B, C, N, O, and F.
- The elements which are the most widely diffused have small atomic weights.
- The magnitude of the atomic weight determines the character of the element, just as the magnitude of the molecule determines the character of a compound body.
- We must expect the discovery of many yet unknown elements–for example, two elements, analogous to aluminum and silicon, whose atomic weights would be between 65 and 75.
- The atomic weight of an element may sometimes be amended by a knowledge of those of its contiguous elements. Thus the atomic weight of tellurium must lie between 123 and 126, and cannot be 128. (Tellurium's atomic mass is 127.6, and Mendeleev was incorrect in his assumption that atomic mass must increase with position within a period.)
- Certain characteristic properties of elements can be foretold from their atomic weights.
Mendeleev published his periodic table of all known elements and predicted several new elements to complete the table in a Russian-language journal. Only a few months after, Meyer published a virtually identical table in a German-language journal. Some consider Meyer and Mendeleev the co-creators of the periodic table. Mendeleev has the distinction of accurately predicting of the qualities of what he called ekasilicon, ekaaluminium and ekaboron (germanium, gallium and scandium, respectively).
For his predicted eight elements, he used the prefixes of eka, dvi, and tri (Sanskrit one, two, three) in their naming. Mendeleev questioned some of the currently accepted atomic weights (they could be measured only with a relatively low accuracy at that time), pointing out that they did not correspond to those suggested by his Periodic Law. He noted that tellurium has a higher atomic weight than iodine, but he placed them in the right order, incorrectly predicting that the accepted atomic weights at the time were at fault. He was puzzled about where to put the known lanthanides, and predicted the existence of another row to the table which were the actinides which were some of the heaviest in atomic mass. Some people dismissed Mendeleev for predicting that there would be more elements, but he was proven to be correct when Ga (gallium) and Ge (germanium) were found in 1875 and 1886 respectively, fitting perfectly into the two missing spaces.
By giving Sanskrit names to his "missing" elements, Mendeleev showed his appreciation and debt to the Sanskrit grammarians of ancient India, who had created sophisticated theories of language based on their discovery of the two-dimensional patterns in basic sounds. Mendeleev was a friend and colleague of the Sanskritist Böhtlingk, who was preparing the second edition of his book on Pāṇini at about this time, and Mendeleev wished to honor Pāṇini with his nomenclature. Noting that there are striking similarities between the periodic table and the introductory Śiva Sūtras in Pāṇini's grammar, Prof. Kiparsky says:
"[T]he analogies between the two systems are striking. Just as Panini found that the phonological patterning of sounds in the language is a function of their articulatory properties, so Mendeleev found that the chemical properties of elements are a function of their atomic weights.
Like Panini, Mendeleev arrived at his discovery through a search for the “grammar” of the elements (using what he called the principle of isomorphism, and looking for general formulas to generate the possible chemical compounds).
Just as Panini arranged the sounds in order of increasing phonetic complexity (e.g. with the simple stops k,p… preceding the other stops, and representing all of them in expressions like kU, pU) so Mendeleev arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weights, and called the first row (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon etc.) “typical (or representative) elements”.
Just as Panini broke the phonetic parallelism of sounds when the simplicity of the system required it, e.g. putting the velar to the right of the labial in the nasal row, so Mendeleev gave priority to isomorphism over atomic weights when they conflicted, e.g. putting beryllium in the magnesium family because it patterns with it even though by atomic weight it seemed to belong with nitrogen and phosphorus. In both cases, the periodicities they discovered would later be explained by a theory of the internal structure of the elements."
The original draft made by Mendeleev would be found years later and published under the name Tentative System of Elements.
Dmitri Mendeleev is often referred to as the Father of the Periodic Table. He called his table or matrix, "the Periodic System".
Mendeleev made other important contributions to chemistry. The Russian chemist and science historian Lev Chugaev has characterized him as "a chemist of genius, first-class physicist, a fruitful researcher in the fields of hydrodynamics, meteorology, geology, certain branches of chemical technology (explosives, petroleum, and fuels, for example) and other disciplines adjacent to chemistry and physics, a thorough expert of chemical industry and industry in general, and an original thinker in the field of economy." Mendeleev was one of the founders, in 1869, of the Russian Chemical Society. He worked on the theory and practice of protectionist trade and on agriculture.
In an attempt at a chemical conception of the Aether, he put forward a hypothesis that there existed two inert chemical elements of lesser atomic weight than hydrogen. Of these two proposed elements, he thought the lighter to be an all-penetrating, all-pervasive gas, and the slightly heavier one to be a proposed element, coronium.
Mendeleev devoted much study and made important contributions to the determination of the nature of such indefinite compounds as solutions.
In another department of physical chemistry, he investigated the expansion of liquids with heat, and devised a formula similar to Gay-Lussac's law of the uniformity of the expansion of gases, while in 1861 he anticipated Thomas Andrews' conception of the critical temperature of gases by defining the absolute boiling-point of a substance as the temperature at which cohesion and heat of vaporization become equal to zero and the liquid changes to vapor, irrespective of the pressure and volume.
He invented pyrocollodion, a kind of smokeless powder based on nitrocellulose. This work had been commissioned by the Russian Navy, which however did not adopt its use. In 1892 Mendeleev organized its manufacture.
Mendeleev studied petroleum origin and concluded hydrocarbons are abiogenic and form deep within the earth – see Abiogenic petroleum origin. He wrote: "The capital fact to note is that petroleum was born in the depths of the earth, and it is only there that we must seek its origin." (Dmitri Mendeleev, 1877)
A very popular Russian story is that it was Mendeleev who came up with the 40% standard strength of vodka in 1894, after having been appointed Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures with the assignment to formulate new state standards for the production of vodka. This story has, for instance, been used in marketing claims by the Russian Standard vodka brand that, "In 1894, Dmitri Mendeleev, the greatest scientist in all Russia, received the decree to set the Imperial quality standard for Russian vodka and the 'Russian Standard' was born", or that the vodka is "compliant with the highest quality of Russian vodka approved by the royal government commission headed by Mendeleev in 1894."
While it is true that Mendeleev in 1892 became head of the Archive of Weights and Measures in Saint Petersburg, and evolved it into a government bureau the following year, that institution was never involved in setting any production quality standards, but was issued with standardising Russian trade weights and measuring instruments. Furthermore, the 40% standard strength was already introduced by the Russian government in 1843, when Mendeleev was nine years old.
The basis for the whole story is a popular myth that Mendeleev's 1865 doctoral dissertation "A Discourse on the combination of alcohol and water" contained a statement that 38% is the ideal strength of vodka, and that this number was later rounded to 40% to simplify the calculation of alcohol tax. However, Mendeleev's dissertation was about alcohol concentrations over 70% and he never wrote anything about vodka.
A number of places and objects are associated with the name and achievements of the scientist.
In Saint Petersburg his name was given to the National Metrology Institute dealing with establishing and supporting national and worldwide standards for precise measurements. Next to it there is a monument to him that consists of his sitting statue and a depiction of his periodic table on the wall of the establishment.
In the Twelve Collegia building, now being the centre of Saint Petersburg State University and in Mendeleev's time – Head Pedagogical Institute – there is Dmitry Mendeleev's Memorial Museum Apartment with his archives. The street in front of these is named after him as Mendeleevskaya liniya (Mendeleev Line).
In Moscow, there is the D. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology of Russia.
After him was also named mendelevium, which is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Md (formerly Mv) and the atomic number 101. It is a metallic radioactive transuranic element in the actinide series, usually synthesized by bombarding einsteinium with alpha particles.
A large lunar impact crater Mendeleev that is located on the far side of the Moon, as seen from the Earth, also bears the name of the scientist.