Where Have All the Periodic Tables Gone?

wondersofscience.jpgOn a stroll through a flea market in my neighborhood last weekend, I happened upon a tiny treasure in a bin of old books. “Wonders of Science: A Pictorial Story of Science and Invention,” is a guide through the “wonderland of science” that was the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in the 1930s. There were two rather precious chemistry gems in the mix: Lilliputian Laboratory, a miniature reproduction of a modern chemical laboratory, and The Building Blocks of the Earth, a gigantic spiraling periodic table with actual samples of the elements (pictures of both after the jump). Now, the charm of the Lilliputian Laboratory lay primarily in its, well, Lilliputian-ness; It pretty much looks like a diorama I might have made in the fourth grade. The Building Blocks of the Earth, on the other hand, is truly something special. It raises several questions: lilliputianlab.jpgperiodic-table.jpg

1) Although Theodore Gray’s periodic table (a portable version is seen here at lasgray-table.JPGt year’s spring ACS meeting in Chicago) is quite beautiful, there’s something rustic and wonderful about these big ol’ spiral exhibits. Is high tech really better? Hmm.

And 2) A quick perusal of the Franklin Institute’s website indicates that the Building Blocks of the Earth has been retired, I’m sure in favor of far more educational, interactive, and, well, just plain current exhibits. A colleague mentioned having a similar museum catalogue from the 1950s, which also boasted a big ol’ spiral exhibit. Where do these things go to die? Perhaps someone from the Chemical Heritage Foundation can chime in? 'Cause I’d like to lobby to bring one back for some old-timey chemistry fun.

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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  1. I’ve been to the Franklin Institute. At the time, the centerpiece was the giant fiberglass reproduction of a heart that you could actually walk through.

  2. I just got a call from the CHF– they’re on the case!

  3. I have the sneaking suspicion that some manager somewhere noticed the periodic tables with the *pictures* of the elements, and saw a cheap way out of maintaining the collections of the real ones.

  4. Hey, that’s me in the photo. Cool.

  5. They all look the same, and have lost their originality

  6. If commercial artists put more originality into their effort, like the RSC did a few years back, young people’s interest could be piqued at a much earlier age.

  7. Great find! Someone should make a youtube video about every element on the periodic table. That might grab a lot of attention.

  8. If you are interested in the origins and significance of the periodic table you might consider picking up a copy of my book,

    The Periodic table, Its Story and Its Significance, published by Oxford University Press in 2007.

    I would be delighted to hear from any readers. See my website for my E-mail or do a search.
    eric scerri