“The periodic table of the elements is one of the most powerful icons of science: a single document that captures the essence of chemistry in an elegant pattern.”
Professor Eric Scerri
The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance
Three different versions of the most important scientific discovery ever made:
The most common layout in textbooks (18 columns)
All the elements on a single line (Mr Ian Stuart teaches preschoolers with this version)
Periodic Table Videos
Click the thumbnails to play the videos and press “f” for full screen viewing
Periodic Table Websites
more information about the periodic table
The medium-long form periodic table is the most common layout you will find in textbooks and on laboratory walls. This format fills the white space on a standard printed page most efficiently. Unfortunately, this layout can be very confusing for students if the reason for moving the “lanthanides” and “actinides” below the main table is never clearly explained.
Some publishers place element 57 (lanthanum) and element 89 (actinium) inside the main table. Compare, for example, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s with Wikipedia’s interactive periodic tables.
The long-form periodic table places all the elements in a single table with no breaks, thereby maintaining the expected pattern of increasing atomic number when moving left to right from element 56 (barium) and element 88 (radium).
By shading all the metals grey, we immediately notice that most of the elements are metals. We also notice that metals ‘live’ on the right side of the periodic table. Only twenty-five elements are non-metals and they all ‘live’ on the left side of the periodic table.
Note 1: Some teachers place hydrogen above fluorine on the right side of the periodic table. Others place helium above beryllium on the left side. Some leave hydrogen floating in the middle and some authors have argued that it belongs above carbon. This 2017 paper, entitled, “On the true position of hydrogen in the periodic table” by Vladimir Petruševski and Julijana Cvetković provides an excellent summary of the various arguments for the alternative positions for Element Number 1 in the periodic table.
Note 2: The position of elements 21 (scandium) and 39 (yttrium) are currently being reviewed by the Union of Physical and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) task group on “The constitution of Group 3 of the Periodic Table” led by Professor Eric Scerri.
The “elements strip” is simply the list of all 118 elements on a single line. This layout obviously won’t fit neatly on any kind of page, but make your own and you immediately notice that the periodic table is another kind of alphabet – it’s the Alphabet of the Universe. Holding an elements strip gives students a deep appreciation of the number of elements and their relative positions in the periodic table.
Credit for A brilliant idea
I first learned about turning the periodic table into one big long “Elements Strip” from Mr Ian Stuart, a retired high school physics and chemistry teacher who taught at Brisbane Girls Grammar School in Queensland. Mr Stuart is the founder and director of Atomic School and his YouTube Channel is packed with awesome videos about atoms, molecules and the periodic table.