The Cheat Sheet

Remembering the Periodic Table and Dabholkar

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on August 22, 2019 Published on August 22, 2019

Well played, your headline has caught my attention.

Well, as you’d know already, 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT 2019). Scientists, students, policymakers and the public at large in many geographies are now celebrating the achievements of the humble periodic table, which was discovered in 1869 by Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Interesting! I want to know more about him!

Mendeleev (1834-1907) was a Russian chemist. He found that if we arranged all the known chemical elements based on their atomic weight (low to high), they exhibited a recurring pattern (periodicity) of properties. He arranged them in this order and released his table, but he wasn’t able to find all the elements to fill the table. So he left gaps in places where he thought new (read unknown) elements would arrive. And he was bang on.

Wow!

The scientific community thinks the arrival the Periodic System ranks among the most important and influential achievements in modern science. The UN recognises that the table’s influence has far exceeded the domains of chemistry, physics or biology and has reached many other disciplines, even changing many aspects of social sciences.

Impressive! I just Googled and found several discussions on the gender biases in the history of the PT.

Today, it may seem that not many women were part of the history and development of the periodic table. This is not true. Those who worked in the development of the periodic table were not properly acknowledged; nor were their services properly documented. Most of the women are “forgotten or overlooked”. Recently, an international symposium — Setting Their Table: Women and the Periodic Table of Elements — tried to look at exactly this, demonstrating the presence of women and girls in the history of the development and filling of the PT.

Cool!

That’s just one of the many ways the year of the periodic table is celebrated. You can log on to the UN’s website iypt2019.org to know about more such programmes and trivia. In India also, scientific institutions and popular groups such as the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad are organising several programmes to mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table. And many of these organisations are also focussing on the immediate and pressing need of creating a scientific temper, especially given the way pseudo-science and misinformation spread in our society.

Ah, that’s where we talk about Dabholkar!

You said it! In memory of the rationalist and scientist, Narendra Dabholkar, who was killed on August 20, 2013, several scientists and students celebrated August 20 as the National Scientific Temper Day. As founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti ( or the Maharashtra Blind-Faith Eradication Committee), Dabholkar tried tirelessly to spread values of science and rational thinking in society, an act which cost him his life. Like Mendeleev who said, “there is nothing in this world that I fear to say”, Dabholkar — who was a medical doctor — was also fearless in his ways and means.

Illuminating, indeed!

Mendeleev has said that it is the function of science to discover the existence of a “general reign of order” in nature, and to find the “causes governing this order”. And this refers in equal measure to the relations of man — social and political — and to the entire universe as a whole (Selected Writings, 1869-1905). Dabholkar would happily agree. As one of his popular quotes goes, “scientific temperament is a process of thinking, method of action, search of truth, way of life, spirit of a freeman”. As we reach the second half of 2019, celebrating the periodic table while seeking answers for who actually killed Dabholkar, all signs around us point to the fact that making people believe in the contributions and power of science is really a tall order.

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Published on August 22, 2019
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