Mendeleev is most famous for his research in chemistry that led to his development of the first Periodic Table of the Elements.

His family and upbringing

   Born in Tobolsk, Siberia, on February 7, 1834 , Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was the youngest son of Maria Dmitrievna Korniliev and Ivan Pavlovitch Mendeleev. After the death of his father, the young Dmitri and his family of 15 moved to Aremziansk so his mother could take over management of a family-owned glass factory, the only job she could find to support the family. Often hailed as his mother's favorite son, she saved money most of his life so he could attend the University.

   While in Aremziansk, Dmitri spent many hours learning the art of glass making from Timofei, the chemist at the factory. Bessargin, His older sister's husband, a revolutionary banished to siberia for his political beliefs, taught him science. It was quickly becoming apparent to them that Dmitri could handle complex topics with ease. These two, along with his mother, became the primary influences on his young life. His mother told him everything came from love, Timofei told him everything came from art, and Bessargin told him everything came from science.

   At the age of 14, while he was still in the gymnasium in Tobolsk, the family glass factory burned to the ground. This devastated the family to the point that Maria encouraged Dmitri heavily to work for scholarships after having to use the money she'd saved for his college to pay family expenses. This wasn't easy, as Dmitri wasn't a model student. He heavily disliked the studies of Latin and History, saying they were "dead topics and a waste of his time". After much coaxing from his family, however, Dmitri finally passed the exams at the gymnasium and prepared to enter the university in 1849.

On his own

   With no future left for the family in Aremziansk, the three remaining Mendeleevs (Maria, Dmitri, and Elizabeth) moved to Moscow. In the middle of a large political upheaval, the university didn't admit anyone who wasn't from Moscow, and this included Dmitri. Not to be set back, the family then moved on to St. Petersburg to enroll him in his father's old school (after a bit of coaxing). Dmitri started his studies at the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Institute in the fall of 1850 on a full scholarship. His mother and sister died shortly thereafter from tuberculosis. He treated the words of his mother as sacred, as evidenced in his eulogy to his mother in a later book:

"When dying she said, 'Refrain from illusions, insist on work and not on words. Patiently search divine and scientific truth.' She understood how often dialectical methods deceive, how much there is still to be learned, and how, with the aid of science without violence, with love but firmness, all superstition, untruth and error are removed, bringing in their stead the safety of undiscovered truth, freedom for further development, general welfare, and inward happiness." 1

   Dmitri completed his first four years of schooling, despite a health-related setback, as first in his class in 1854, at which point he moved to Simferopol to take a position as chief science master of the gymnasium there. His doctors in St. Petersburg were wary that Dmitri might have had tuberculosis, but after his move to the south they could detect no traces of it in him. After completing his master's thesis ("Research and Theories on Expansion of Substances due to Heat") in 1856, he focused on teaching and research. His devotion to teaching and his students later gave way to the periodic table, while his devotion to his country and fellow man led to his contributions to Russian industries.

His marriage and research

   In 1859, he traveled abroad to study scientific innovations by the Minister of Public Instruction of Russia. Over the next two years, Dmitri studied Gas densities with Regnault, the workings of the spectroscope with Kirchoff, and a recent theory of atomic weights with Cannizzaro. These opportunities provided Dmitri with inspiration for his later work. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in 1863, he was named Professor of Chemistry for the Technical Institute. This led to his eventual Doctor of Science degree and position as Professor of Chemistry at the University in 1866 with his research of the interactions of Alcohol and Water.

   Mendeleev married Feozva Nikitchna Lascheva in 1963, but didn't love her or spend much time with her. Before their eventual divorce in 1882, the couple had two children, a boy named Volodya, and a daughter named Olga (after Dmitri's sister who encouraged the two to marry in the first place). Shortly after the divorce, he remarried his niece's best friend, Anna Ivanova Popova. They loved each other very much, and were together until his death, despite their considerable difference in age. Out of this marriage came four children: Liubov, Ivan, Vassili and Maria. Dmitri was an admitted bigamist, but his fame led the Orthodox Church and the Czar to say "Mendeleev has two wives, yes, but I have only one Mendeleev". 1

From 1854 to 1906, Dmitri produced 250 transcripts, the most notable of which being "Organic Chemistry" (1861) and "Principles of Chemistry" (1868), both of which quickly became standard classroom texts. He was a founding member of the Russian Chemical Society in 1868, helping open the lines of communication between American and European scientists. He later, through his research in the behavior of gasses at low pressures, developed an accurate barometer that furthered meteorological studies in Russia.

the Periodic Table of the Elements

By far his greatest accomplishment, Mendeleev released "The Dependence Between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements" to the Russian Chemical Society on March 6, 1869. At this point, Dmitri was very ill, so his colleague Professor Menshutken delivered the presentation. This study was based on a detailed analysis of 60 elements with data collected from chemists all over the world. The eight major points in his presentation were:

  • The elements, if arranged according to their atomic weights, exhibit an apparent periodicity of properties.
  • Elements which are similar as regards their chemical properties have atomic weights which are either of nearly the same value (eg. Pt, Ir, Os) or which increase regularly (eg. K, Ru, Cs).
  • The arrangement of the elements, or of groups of elements in the order of their atomic weights, corresponds to their so-called valencies, as well as, to some extent, to their distinctive chemical properties; as is apparent among other series in that of Li, Be, Ba, C, N, O, and Sn.
  • The elements which are the most widely diffused have small atomic weights. The magnitude of the atomic weight determines the character of the element, just as the magnitude of the molecule determines the character of a compound body.
  • We must expect the discovery of many as yet unknown elements-for example, elements analogous to aluminum and silicon- whose atomic weight would be between 65 and 75.
  • The atomic weight of an element may sometimes be amended by a knowledge of those of its contiguous elements. Thus the atomic weight of tellurium must lie between 123 and 126, and cannot be 128.
  • Certain characteristic properties of elements can be foretold from their atomic weights.1
   Based on his previous research, On November 29, 1870 Mendeleev predicted three more elements: "eka-aluminum", "eka-boron" and "eka-silicon". Many scoffed at his predictions, but were silences in 1875 when the French chemist Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran isolated Gallium, exactly matching the properties of "eka-aluminum". Later, in 1879, Lars Fredrick Nilson discovered Scandium, which exactly matched the properties of "eka-boron", and in 1886 Clemens Alexander Winkler discovered germanium, exactly matching the properties of "eka-silicon".2

   Throughout the remainder of his life, Mendeleev received many awards and Honorary degrees, including the Davy Medal from the Royal Society of England in 1882, and the Copley Medal in 1905. He was one vote away from winning the Nobel Prize in 1906.3


   Mendeleev resigned from the University on August 17, 1890 after carrying a student petition to the Minister of Education, which was rejected. The Minister suggested to Mendeleev that he should "keep to teaching and not involve himself with students and politics." Mendeleev's final lecture at the university was interrupted by police, who were paranoid of Mendeleev leading students in a political uprising. To ease political unrest, Mendeleev was appointed the Director of the Department of Weights and Measures in Russia in 1896. The 101st element, Mendelevium, was later named in his honor. He was later elected to the Academy of Arts under Anna's persuasion for his insightful criticism and painting.

On January 20, 1907 at the age of 73, Mendeleev passed away, but his periodic table continues to influence our deeper understanding on how the universe is put together.

Works Cited:
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