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School chemistry: GCSE level questions on the history of the Periodic Table

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Question 1 based on the early classification of Antoine Lavoisier of 1789

Antoine Lavoisier's 1789 classification of substances into four 'element' groups

acid-making elements gas-like elements metallic elements earthy elements
sulphur light cobalt, mercury, tin lime (calcium oxide)
phosphorus caloric (heat) copper, nickel, iron,  magnesia (magnesium oxide)
charcoal (carbon) oxygen gold, lead, silver, zinc barytes (barium sulphate)
  azote (nitrogen) manganese, tungsten argilla (aluminium oxide)
  hydrogen platina (platinum) silex (silicon dioxide)
  • (a) Define what we mean by (i) an element, (ii) a compound.
  • (b) Name two 'substances' in the list which are NOT an element, compound or mixture.
  • (c) Is Lavoisier correct to refer to charcoal as an 'element'?
  • (d) Why are sulphur, phosphorus and charcoal described as 'acid-making' elements?
  • (e) Are all the metallic 'elements' he listed really elements?
  • (f) Did he genuinely distinguish between metallic and non-metallic elements?
  • (g) Which substances in his list, from your own modern knowledge, are definitely compounds?
  • (h) Why do you think he thought your answers to (g) were elements?

 Question 2 based on the 1829 work of Johann Döbereiner

  • Johann Döbereiner noted that certain elements seemed to occur as 'triads' of similar elements eg
    • (i) lithium, sodium and potassium
    • (ii) calcium, strontium and barium
    • (iii) chlorine, bromine and iodine
  • (a) Although the lists are incomplete, what do we now call these 'collections' of similar elements in a modern periodic table? (his triads where the forerunner of this 'idea')

  • (b) What are the modern names for these three 'collections'?

Question 3 based on the work of John Newlands 1864

(every 7 elements, the 8th seemed to be very similar to the 1st of the previous 7)

Newlands' Octaves (his 'Periodic Table' of 1864)

H Li Ga B C N O
F Na Mg Al Si P S
Cl K Ca Cr Ti Mn Fe
Co, Ni Cu Zn Y In As Se
Br Rb Sr Ce, La Zr Di, Mo Ro, Ru
Pd Ag Cd U Sn Sb Te
I Cs Ba, V Ta W Nb Au
Pt, Ir Tl Pb Th Hg Bi Cs
  • Note: Di in column 6 was a mixture of elements, Ro is now Rh rhodium.
  • (a) In which ways is Newlands 'Periodic Table' superior to Lavoisier's classification of the elements?
  • (b) Why is Newlands classification superior to Johann Döbereiner's work?
  • (c) Can you spot any 'Groups' of elements which you find on a modern Periodic Table? and are they classified in their own right an not mixed up with elements from other 'modern' groups or series?
  • (d) From your own knowledge, can you spot 'groups' of elements which seem very out of place compared to a modern Periodic Table?
  • (e) Can you spot a metallic and non-metallic element correctly placed in the same vertical column group?
  • (f) Newlands contributed to two important ideas about the structure of the modern periodic table, what are they? (take a 'broad' view and think of Johann Döbereiner's work too).

Question 4 based on Dmitri Mendeleev's Periodic Table of 1869

(It was published simultaneously in 1869 with the work of Lothar Meyer who looked at the physical properties of all known elements. He noted 'periodic' trend patterns eg peaks and troughs when melting or boiling points and specific heat values were plotted against 'atomic weight' - what  we now call relative atomic mass)

Mendellev 1869

  • (a) In what order did Mendeleev originally set out the elements?
  • (b) Which group of elements is missing? can you suggest reasons for their absence?
  • (c) Which element would be above Y (yttrium) in Group III,  below aluminium in Group III? and which element would be below silicon in group IV?
  • (d) Mendeleev predicted the existence of the elements for the answers to (c) and predicted their properties and for some of their compounds eg their formula and physical and chemical character.
    • (i) How could you do this in principle?
    • (ii) What type of elements might they be?
    • (iii) Can you predict the formula of their oxide and chloride?
  • (e) State as many features as you can spot, in which Mendeleev's Periodic Table is superior to Newlands 'classification'

Question 5 based on a typical modern version of the Periodic Table

part of modern Periodic Table

Note: not all elements are shown (58-71 and 91-103 are not shown)

  • (a) In which order are the elements set out in the modern periodic table?
  • (b) The pairs of elements: (i) tellurium (Te, atomic mass 127.6) and iodine (I, atomic mass 126.9), AND (ii) argon (atomic mass 39.95) and potassium (atomic mass 39.10), do not follow the 'historic rule' quoted in Q4(a). Explain why not?
  • (c) It was in 1914 that a scientist called Moseley put tellurium and iodine in their correct 'periodic order', so what piece of information did he know that Mendeleev didn't?
  • (d) State as many features as you can think of, in which the Periodic Table is superior to Mendeleev's Periodic Table.
  • (e) Where have elements 104-109 come from?
  • (f) The scientist called Glenn Seaborg is rarely known by any school student, at least compared to Mendeleev. Find out what areas of science he worked in and is it science of the future?
  • -

(c) doc b Answers to all these Questions


doc b foundation-easier quiz on the basics of the Periodic Table

doc b higher-harder quiz on the basics of the Periodic Table

click me! Basic Periodic Table Task sheet worksheet * (answers)

click me! gap-fill worksheet on the Periodic Table

click me! (harder 35); click me! (easier 20) Quiz on the Names and Symbols of Elements

click me! Giant Periodic Table crossword puzzle

click me! Matching pair quiz on Atomic and electronic structure and the Periodic Table

click me! Periodic Table structure question (up to UK higher level) * (answers)

click me! Giant Periodic Table crossword puzzle (originally written for Edexcel GCSE 360 Science, Chemistry C1a, Topic 5 Patterns in Properties, but can be used with other GCSE/IGCSE/KS4 AQA or OCR GCSE science-CHEMISTRY courses)

click me! The Periodic Table word-fill worksheet - bumper version!