The 14th International Conference on

Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

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Mendeleev's predicted elements


Mendeleev's predicted elements

Dmitri Mendeleev published a periodic table of the chemical elements in 1869 based on properties that appeared with some regularity as he laid out the elements from lightest to heaviest. When Mendeleev proposed his periodic table, he noted gaps in the table and predicted that as-then-unknown elements existed with properties appropriate to fill those gaps. He named them eka-boron, eka-aluminium and eka-silicon, with respective atomic masses of 44, 68, and 72.

The eka- prefix was used by other theorists, and not only in Mendeleev's own predictions. Before the discovery, francium was referred to as eka-caesium, and astatine as eka-iodine. Sometimes, eka- is still used to refer to some of the transuranic elements, for example, eka-actinium (or dvi-lanthanum) for unbiunium. But current official IUPAC practice is to use a systematic element name based on the atomic number of the element as the provisional name, instead of being based on its position in the periodic table as these prefixes require.

The four predicted elements lighter than the rare-earth elements, eka-boron (Eb, under Boron, B, 5), eka-aluminium (Ea or El, under Al, 13), eka-manganese (Em, under Mn, 25), and eka-silicon (Es, under Si, 14), proved to be good predictors of the properties of scandium (Sc, 21), gallium (Ga, 31), technetium (Tc, 43), and germanium (Ge, 32) respectively, which fill the spot in the periodic table assigned by Mendeleev.

Initial versions of the periodic table did not distinguish rare earth elements from transition elements, helping to explain both why Mendeleev's predictions for heavier unknown elements did not fare as well as those for the lighter ones and why they are not as well known or documented.

Scandium oxide was isolated in late 1879 by Lars Fredrick Nilson; Per Teodor Cleve recognized the correspondence and notified Mendeleev late in that year. Mendeleev had predicted an atomic mass of 44 for ekaboron in 1871, while scandium has an atomic mass of 44.955908.

In 1871 Mendeleev predicted the existence of a yet-undiscovered element he named eka-aluminium (because of its proximity to aluminium in the periodic table). The table below compares the qualities of the element predicted by Mendeleev with actual characteristics of gallium (discovered in 1875 by Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran).

The existence of an element between thorium (90) and uranium (92) was predicted by Mendeleev in 1871. In 1900, William Crookes isolated protactinium (91) as a radioactive material from uranium that he could not identify. Different isotopes of protactinium were identified in Germany in 1913 and in 1918, but the name protactinium was not given until 1948. Since the acceptance of Glenn T. Seaborg's actinide concept in 1945, thorium, uranium and protactinium have been classified as actinides; hence, protactinium does not occupy the place of eka-tantalum (under 73) in group 5. Eka-tantalum is actually the synthetic superheavy element dubnium (105).

Mendeleev's 1869 table had implicitly predicted a heavier analog of titanium (22) and zirconium (40), but in 1871 he placed lanthanum (57) in that spot. The 1923 discovery of hafnium (72) validated Mendeleev's original 1869 prediction.

In 1902, having accepted the evidence for elements helium and argon, Mendeleev placed these noble gases in Group 0 in his arrangement of the elements. As Mendeleev was doubtful of atomic theory to explain the law of definite proportions, he had no a priori reason to believe hydrogen was the lightest of elements, and suggested that a hypothetical lighter member of these chemically inert Group 0 elements could have gone undetected and be responsible for radioactivity. Currently some periodic tables of elements put lone neutrons in this place, and it matches Mendeleev's predictions fairly well.

Mendeleev later published a theoretical expression of the ether in a small booklet entitled A Chemical Conception of the Ether (1904). His 1904 publication again contained two atomic elements smaller and lighter than hydrogen. He treated the "ether gas" as an interstellar atmosphere composed of at least two elements lighter than hydrogen. He stated that these gases originated due to violent bombardments internal to stars, the Sun being the most prolific source of such gases. According to Mendeleev's booklet, the interstellar atmosphere was probably composed of several additional elemental species.


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