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Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
John W. Servos
Emily T. H. Redman
Jeffry L. Ramsey
History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
It is probably a surprise to most people that the periodic table they remember from high school chemistry is not the only periodic table – and never has been. Currently there are probably over a thousand different forms. The table in your chemistry textbook or on the wall chart in your chemistry classroom is not the periodic table. It is simply the most commonly used form. In fact, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the international standards-making body for chemistry, has stated that although they encourage the use of this form, they will not endorse any one form of the periodic table as the periodic table. So where did this form come from? How did it come to be the current standard form of the periodic table? Most writing on the periodic table does not address such questions. For what is widely regarded as an icon of science, little is actually known about the origin of its form.
This dissertation aims to answer the questions of how the current standard form of the periodic table was developed and how it came to be ubiquitous in classrooms and textbooks. In it, I highlight the practical nature of chemistry, which influenced not only the development and acceptance of the periodic law but the creation of graphical representations of the periodic system that placed an emphasis on utility rather than art. I examine the role of research and pedagogy in the development of classification schemes for the elements, particularly the periodic system. I argue that the role played by pedagogy was more influential than that of research in the creation of new classification systems and the multiplicity of graphical representations of the periodic law. In the case of the periodic table, research-down theories about pedagogy, in which textbooks are seen merely as codifications of accepted scientific knowledge, do not hold true.
Robinson, Ann, "Creating a Symbol of Science: The Development of a Standard Periodic Table of the Elements" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1385.