It seems clear that there is a demand for representations of the periodic system that aspire to be beautiful or exciting as well as useful. Circles, ellipses and spirals belong to the world of curved forms in which our visual system evolved over millions of years, and they have emotional appeal. At the same time, they have the beauty of the complex mathematics that underlies them. Straight lines and right angles have been familiar only in the few [ FoC p. 244] thousand years since bricks and writing were invented, and they appeal solely to the reason. The aesthetic possibilities of rectangles are limited essentially to variations in size and proportions and to regularities of arrangement. The conventional version is not even symmetrical. A table is as static as a wall, but a spiral is dynamic like a spring and suggests inward or outward movement. It is not a case of having to choose between beauty and utility. On the contrary, a spiral can claim to be both practical and more faithful than a table to the reality of the continuous sequence, though the stretching of gaps, necessary if the outer coils are to fit with the inner ones, in places obscures the continuity. The groups of elements are maintained intact, and it may be easier for visual memory to recall their position on radii at different angles than in parallel columns. Although the start of a new principal quantum number does not jump out of the page, it can easily enough be pointed out, as can ‘blocks’ if required. It may be objected that spirals are less convenient for conveying detailed information. Today’s typical wall-chart is a virtual book, with each elemental rectangle a miniature page, crammed with facts (and difficult to read from a distance). The alternative is to see the primary aim as being to portray the periodic system as a whole, with the place of each element in it, which a spiral does admirably well. Detailed information is best sought in the pages of a real book or website. For well over a century most chemists have remained faithful to the table, although its discontinuities have created persistent problems. It may have cramped the vision of Mendeleev himself – may indeed have prevented him from seeing the space for the noble gases that could have secured the Nobel Prize for him. It is time for spirals to take their place alongside the ‘continuum of periodic tables’ envisaged by Scerri (2007, p. 285). Footnotes 1. [p. 236] This, like all references to Mendeleev's works, is taken from the collection edited by W. B. Jensen, 2002. It is amusing to note, given Mendeleev’s aversion to spiritualism, that the most popular website for the text of the 1904 article is one devoted to the occult, http::// The x for ether has been deleted from the table reproduced there - too material?!
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