periodic table, chart of the elements arranged according to the periodic law discovered by Dmitri I. Mendeleev and revised by Henry G. J. Moseley. In the periodic table the elements are arranged in columns and rows according to increasing atomic number (see the table entitled Periodic Table).
There are 18 vertical columns, or groups, in the standard periodic table. At present, there are three versions of the periodic table, each with its own unique column headings, in wide use. The three formats are the old International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) table, the Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) table, and the new IUPAC table. The old IUPAC system labeled columns with Roman numerals followed by either the letter A or B. Columns 1 through 7 were numbered IA through VIIA, columns 8 through 10 were labeled VIIIA, columns 11 through 17 were numbered IB through VIIB and column 18 was numbered VIII. The CAS system also used Roman numerals followed by an A or B. This method, however, labeled columns 1 and 2 as IA and IIA, columns 3 through 7 as IIIB through VIB, column 8 through 10 as VIII, columns 11 and 12 as IB and IIB and columns 13 through 18 as IIIA through VIIIA. However, in the old IUPAC system the letters A and B were designated to the left and right part of the table, while in the CAS system the letters A and B were designated to the main group elements and transition elements respectively. (The preparer of the table arbitrarily could use either an upper-or lower-case letter A or B, adding to the confusion.) Further, the old IUPAC system was more frequently used in Europe while the CAS system was most common in America. In the new IUPAC system, columns are numbered with Arabic numerals from 1 to 18. These group numbers correspond to the number of s, p, and d orbital electrons added since the last noble gas element (in column 18). This is in keeping with current interpretations of the periodic law which holds that the elements in a group have similar configurations of the outermost electron shells of their atoms. Since most chemical properties result from outer electron interactions, this tends to explain why elements in the same group exhibit similar physical and chemical properties. Unfortunately, the system fails for the elements in the first 3 periods (or rows; see below). For example, aluminum, in the column numbered 13, has only 3 s, p, and d orbital electrons. Nevertheless, the American Chemical Society has adopted the new IUPAC system.
The horizontal rows of the table are called periods. The elements of a period are characterized by the fact that they have the same number of electron shells; the number of electrons in these shells, which equals the element's atomic number, increases from left to right within each period. In each period the lighter metals appear on the left, the heavier metals in the center, and the nonmetals on the right. Elements on the borderline between metals and nonmetals are called metalloids.
Group 1 (with one valence electron) and Group 2 (with two valence electrons) are called the alkali metals and the alkaline-earth metals, respectively. Two series of elements branch off from Group 3, which contains the transition elements, or transition metals; elements 57 to 71 are called the lanthanide series, or rare earths, and elements 89 to 103 are called the actinide series, or radioactive rare earths; a third set, the superactinide series (elements 122–153), is predicted to fall outside the main body of the table, but none of these has yet been synthesized or isolated. The nonmetals in Group 17 (with seven valence electrons) are called the halogens. The elements grouped in the final column (Group 18) have no valence electrons and are called the inert gases, or noble gases, because they react chemically only with extreme difficulty.
In a relatively simple type of periodic table, each position gives the name and chemical symbol for the element assigned to that position; its atomic number; its atomic weight (the weighted average of the masses of its stable isotopes, based on a scale in which carbon-12 has a mass of 12); and its electron configuration, i.e., the distribution of its electrons by shells. The only exceptions are the positions of elements 103 through 118; complete information on these elements has not been compiled. Larger and more complicated periodic tables may also include the following information for each element: atomic diameter or radius; common valence numbers or oxidation states; melting point; boiling point; density; specific heat; Young's modulus; the quantum states of its valence electrons; type of crystal form; stable and radioactive isotopes; and type of magnetism exhibited by the element (paramagnetism or diamagnetism).
See P. W. Atkins, The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of Chemical Elements (1997).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Chemistry: General