Yesterday I was standing in front of the dried spice display in Carrefour (yes, I know it is ever the life of glamour) and it struck me that it resembled the periodic table. There were clear rows and columns, rather like the periods and groups of the table and I rather hoped that there was some great underlying logic in having the spiciest in one corner and most flavoursome in another. I’ll look in more detail next time I’m there.
This year is the 150 anniversary of the periodic table and 2019 has been designated as the year of the periodic table by UNESCO. Working in a school means that you are never far away from a periodic table. I think that I have seen it on walls, windows, in textbooks and on a mug since I have been at the BSP. I suspect it pops up in other places. There is a version in Mr. Potter’s study. As an historian the most contact I have had with it has been through Primo Levi’s extraordinary book. Like Harry Beck’s London Underground map it is a functional diagram that has become a cultural icon. It also inspired one of the greatest comic songs of all time, thank you Tom Lehrer(1).
As a non-chemist I find it incredible that we can reduce so much information into so concise a form. This is where Mendelev’s genius really lay. Anyone who can simplify the complex into the comprehensible gets my vote. As Vincent van Gogh said “how difficult it is to be simple”. Mendelev’s table stands the test of time because it is adaptable. New elements have fitted in. The underlying logic has proved accommodating to change and new discoveries. When comparing the oldest known versions of the table (held by the universities of St. Petersburg and St. Andrew’s) to today’s table it is clear that the structure proposed 150 years ago holds true. It is a piece of thinking that has stood the test of time in a subject in which change is a constant.
Like the Tube map, the periodic table has been appropriated for other purposes. The web provides plenty categorising superheroes, cupcakes and my favourite, typefaces. It would be a shame not be in on the act so having spoken with our Communications Department (who bring us this newsletter each week) we are proud to present the Periodic Table of the BSP. Here is (almost) everything that we do, all of the underlying elements that make our school, well, our school. We’ve probably missed a few and undoubtedly in the future there will be new elements to add. Happily we know that whatever they are we will find a way of fitting them in.
(1) Tom Lehrer – The Elements – Live from Copenhagen in 1967. Do watch until the end…