The Periodic Table of Elements:

How We Got It and How You Can Use It
Professor Kevin Cannon

This course will be held at the Walnut Street West Branch of the Free Library, located at 201S. 40th Street (at Walnut Street), Philadelphia.

No preregistration necessary. Register by attending the first course.


1.  Monday, October 19, 2015 - A Small Matter of Introduction

Since the periodic table is a chart of elements, a brief review of elements and atomic structure will be provided that will enable participants to appreciate the sources of periodicity of the elements.

2.  Monday, October 26, 2015 - A Guide to Reading the Periodic Table

Students will be introduced to the most common version of the periodic table and its organization of rows, columns, and blocks. Examples of how the periodic table is used to predict trends in elemental properties and chemical reactions will be provided. 

3.  Monday, November 2, 2015 - The Recognition of Periodicity and Early Attempts to Categorize Elements  Dimitri Mendeleev is the champion of the periodical system, but he was not the first to develop it. The contributions of Lothar Meyer, Mendeleev, and others to periodic tables in the 19th century will be presented with a historical context of what scientists knew about elements as they debated alternative forms of the periodic table.

4.  Monday, November 9, 2015 - Along Came Quantum Mechanics

The acceptance and evolution of the periodic table to its current form was facilitated by the accelerated discovery of new elements, discoveries about atomic structure, and the formulation of quantum mechanics.  A brief historical review of these developments and their significance to the periodic table will be presented. 

5.  Monday, November 16, 2015 - Are We There Yet?

Science is not stagnant.  The periodic table changes as new elements are discovered.  How are new elements discovered, verified, and named?  Alternative forms of the periodic table have been proposed, and some of these will be examined along with their advantages and disadvantages.

6.  Monday,November 23, 2015 - The Answer is Elemental

Participate in an instructional, interactive game to learn and test your knowledge of the periodic table of the elements. 

What is the periodic table?  What information does it provide?  After an introduction to the elements and atomic structure, this course will examine how the periodic table is used and provide a history of its conception and evolution.

Recommended reading:

E.R. Scerri, The Periodic Table, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007.

M.D. Gordin, A Well-Ordered Thing.  Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table, Basic Books, New York, 2004.

J.W. van Spronsen, The Periodic System of the Chemical Elements, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.

S. Kean, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, Little, Brown &Company, Boston, 2010.


Dr. Kevin Cannon is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Penn State Abington College and a Research Associate at Temple University. He has done chemical work in bomb-detection, car paint, oil spill remediation and natural product synthesis. Dr. Cannon also has an ongoing interest in the history of science, particularly 18th and 19th century science which includes the development of the periodic table.




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