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The Periodic Table Table

April 17, 2012

When I was young, and interested in all aspects of science, I had a collection of chemical elements on my book shelf. Most elements, at least at that time, were not that hard to find in their pure forms. Nowadays, many of these are handled as toxic materials, so today's youngsters could never amass the collection that I had. For example, I had a small drop of mercury in a glass vial, compliments of our family dentist, who advised me not to drink it. I doubt that something like that could happen today.

Along with that drop of mercury, I had carbon from a pencil, aluminum from foil, neon in a neon bulb, lead, tin, chromium (a plated tube), iron (a nail); nickel, copper and silver (coins); zinc (from a battery), tungsten, and probably thorium, from a light bulb; and gold (a small piece of jewelry). Those were the days of $35/troy ounce gold, never to be seen again.

After the pure elements, I scored a few more elements via their compounds. These were sodium, chlorine and iodine from table salt; magnesium and sulfur from Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), boron from borax (sodium tetraborate), calcium from gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate, from drywall wallboard) and from chalk (calcium carbonate, CaCO3); phosphorus from laundry detergents, and silicon from sand (SiO2).

In my professional career I've worked with quite a few of the remaining elements, including many of the rare earth elements that most other scientists don't encounter. By my count, I've used 76 of the elements in various studies. Most of the remaining 42 elements are unstable, and they undergo radioactive decay into other elements.

The Lanthanide elements

The Lanthanide elements were my main preoccupation for many years when I was developing magnetic materials. I synthesized materials using all these elements, except promethium (Pm). (Via Wikimedia Commons))

My youthful element collecting pales in comparison to that of Theodore Gray, one of the founders of Wolfram Research. Gray, who is presently Director of User Interface Technology at Wolfram, has built an actual table with compartments containing specimens of nearly all the elements. His table has been featured in various articles for more than a decade.

Theo Gray

Theo Gray, creator of the Periodic Table Table, seated at his table.

Some specimens of elements can be seen on the shelves behind him.

(Screen capture from a YouTube video). [2)]

Gray was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002, and he was the recipient of the 2011 James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public of the American Chemical Society.

The Periodic Table Table is not Gray's only contribution to public awareness of chemistry. Gray also publishes a regular series in Popular Science entitled, "Gray Matter," which was nominated for a 2010 National Magazine Award for Best Column.

Articles from "Gray Matter" were collected into a book in 2009 entitled, "Mad Science: Experiments You Can do at Home—But Probably Shouldn't."[4] His web site includes a wide variety of periodic table products for sale.

Shown below is the Dysprosium compartment of the Periodic Table Table. Dysprosium used to form the highly magnetostrictive alloy, Terfenol-D Tb0.3Dy0.7Fe2.

Dysprosium compartment of the Periodic Table Table

Dysprosium compartment of the Periodic Table Table

(Screen capture from a YouTube video). [2)]


  1. Kirk Zamieroski, "The Periodic Table Table Featuring Theo Gray," Byte Size Science, February 22, 2012.
  2. The Periodic Table Table Featuring Theo Gray, YouTube video by BytesizeScience, February 22, 2012.
  3. Michael Bernstein and Michael Woods, "New American Chemical Society video showcases the "Periodic Table Table'," American Chemical Society Press Release, March 1, 2012.
  4. Theodore Gray, "Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can do At Home - But Probably Shouldn't," Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, May 25, 2011, 240 pp. (via Amazon)
  5. Theodore Gray Website.

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