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The Life of a Great Discoverer

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev who was born in Tobolsk, Siberia in 1834 was the youngest of the fourteen (14) children of Maria Bmitrievna Korniliev and Ivan Panlovitch Mendeleev. His father was a director of the Gymnasium in Tobolsk. Unfortunately, his father went blind and could no longer support the family. Meanwhile, his mother’s family introduced and owned a paper and glass factory in Siberia. The factory was managed by his mother the time when his father died, since the pension for educators at that time was not that big and insufficient to support the large family.

During his childhood, there were other persons who guided and influenced Dmitri aside from his mother. His sister’s husband, Bessargin, was one of them. Bessargin who was a Russian Decembrist- a group of literary men who organized a revolution in 1825- introduced science into Dmitri’s life. He taught Mendeleev current science topics. Meanwhile, since his mother was managing their family’s glass factory, Mendeleev was allowed to spend more time in the factory where he learned the concept and art of glass making. Being exposed with these people, he was nurtured with three thoughts.

His mother gave him almost everything and the most important of it was the thought that everything in this world is love. Secondly, his sister’s husband, Bessargin, thought him that every thing in this world is science. And lastly, Timofei, the glass blower thought him that everything in this world is art. Dmitri seemed to be his mother’s favorite child. She provided him as many favors and opportunities as she could offer him. She worked very hard to save money for Dmitri to attend the academy. As he grew older, Mendeleev’s extraordinary intellectual capacity of various topics became evident.

When he was 14 years old, he was attending the Gymnasium in his hometown. At that time, it was evident in him that he had great interest in the field of mathematics and physics. On that same year, unfortunately, another tragedy was faced by their family. The glass factory, which was providing their family needs, was destroyed by fire. There was nothing left in the family except the one saved by his mother for Mendeleev’s studies. Maria’s strong will to send him to the university made her think of Dmitri to win a scholarship.

During his latter years at the Gymnasium, her mother persuaded him to study harder, improve his academics and prepare for the entrance exam at the St. Petersburg university. However, it was not an easy task for Dmitri, knowing that he was not a typical scholar. He thought that Latin and history were dead topics and needed less time for studying. Moreover, he considered these subjects as a waste of time. Being persuaded by his mother and Bessargin, he was fortunate enough to pass the examination in the Gymnasium and prepared to enter the university. In 1849, Maria and Dmitri, together with his older sister Elizabeth, headed for Moscow.

Unfortunately, the university in Moscow was reluctant to admit students outside of Moscow. Dmitri was rejected to enter the university. At this point, his mother did not give up, they headed up for St. Petersburg. In St Petersburg, they encountered the same situation, but this time they come across a friend of his father, Ivan, who was working at the Main Pedagogical Institute. Dmitri was now allowed to take the entrance exam. He was fortunate enough to pass the entrance exam and was admitted at the university under the program Science Teacher Training with a full scholarship.

Another tragedy was faced by Dmitri shortly after his admission in the university. His mother and sister, Elizabeth, died due to tuberculosis. Thus, he was left alone in the university to continue his studies. During his third year in the university, he was diagnosed to have tuberculosis which caused him to be bedridden. During that time, Dmitri was lucky enough to have the support of his fellow students and professors. He managed to graduate on time with academic excellence. However, his physical condition did not get better. His doctor told him that he only had two years to live.

He suggested Dmitri to move for a better place if he wanted to extend his life. In 1855, Dmitri’s strong will to live longer made him leave St. Petersburg and move to Simferopol in the Crimean Peninsula near the Black Sea where he became the chief science of the gymnasium. Meanwhile, his move was very favorable to his physical condition; his doctors could no longer detect any sign of tuberculosis in his system. A year after, he returned to St. Petersburg University to defend his master’s thesis entitled: “Research and Theories on Expansion of Substances due to Heat”.

He adopted the atomic weight system of Gerhardt and Laurent and Avogadro’s hypothesis. When Mendeleev finished his masters, he became and instructor at the university. He dedicated his life in teaching and research. He was a devoted teacher to his students and to his works which led him to his books and to the creation of the periodic table. Dmitri was also devoted to his country which led him to make studies about the chemical technology, industry, agriculture, and transport meteorology. Years later, the Minister of Public Instruction requested him to go out of the country to investigate and develop technological innovations.

During 1859-1861, Mendeleev had the opportunity to work with various European scientists. He studied the cohesion of various substances especially organic compounds through capillarity which led him to the formulation of the theory of absolute boiling point. In 1860, Mendeleev had the chance to attend the International Congress of Chemists in Karlsruhe where he obtained a copy of Stanislao Cannizzaro’s paper about the atomic weight. He distinguished Cannizzaro’s successful system of atomic weights apart with Gerhardt’s system of atomic weights of metals.

In 1861, when he was 27 years old he completed his first textbook, “Organic Chemistry”. The textbook, which was his most famous writings, was about the classification of organic compounds on the basis of their degree of saturation and their substitution reactions. He also anticipated writing textbook on inorganic chemistry and theoretical chemistry. In 1862, the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences awarded him the Demidov Prize for his new textbook. The said textbook was adopted from Cannizzaro’s principle for delimiting atomic weights. After his trip abroad, Mendeleev returned to Siberia.

In 1863, he married Feozva Nikitchma. They had two children,the boy was named Volodya and the girl was named Olga, who was named after his sister. In early 1862, Mendeleev decided to divorce his wife Feozva, since he did not truly love her from the very start, so he could marry Anna Ivanova Popova, the woman whom he really loved. Their love to each other lasted until the end of his life and the as a fruit of it they had four children named Liubov, Ivan, Vassili and Maria. Years later, he became the Professor of Chemistry at the University. Mendeleev enjoyed educating students and his fellow men.

He taught not only in the academy but also on every place he travelled. Thus, he was loved and adored not only by the students but also by peasants. In 1866, he finished his doctoral thesis “On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol” and was made the Doctor of Science for it. His thesis could be considered as a study of solutions on his inquiries on indefinite compounds. Aside from his studies on concepts in chemistry, Dmitri also devoted his time toiling to enhance the technology of Russia. Most of his studies dealt with the industry of Russia. In 1868, Mendeleev founded the Russian Chemical Society with his colleagues.

Years after, his greatest contribution on the world of chemistry, the periodic law was discovered. Based from this law, Mendeleev was able to develop the first periodic table where the elements were arranged accordingly. During the early years of his career, he believed that the elements might have some ways to be arranged. During Mendeleev’s time, there were already 63 known elements. He wrote the properties of the elements in a classical way; he wrote it on playing cards and tried to arrange it in order. It took him more than thirteen years to collect necessary data to assemble the concept.

He managed to make detailed descriptions of the 63 elements based on their atomic weights. At that time, he understood that atomic weight must be related to the chemical and physical properties of elements and he should use it, not valence, as a guide for making the periodic table. He managed to arrange the elements periodically in order of increasing atomic mass. Elements with similar properties fell into the same vertical column in the table. Moreover, he decided to leave spaces in his horizontal rows or periods. He thought that the elements that were still unknown belonged to the gaps he made.

He had gone beyond the works of Newlands and Beguyer de Chancourtois on classification of the known elements. Mendeleev published his findings on the knownelements and the periodic table in his book, “The Principles of Chemistry”. In March 1869, his ideas and findings were presented to the Russian Physico-Chemical Society. His presentation was entitled “The Dependence between the Properties of Atomic Weights of the Elements”. Unfortunately, Mendeleev was not able to attend the presentation since he was ill at that time and it was his colleague, Professor Menschutkin, who presented his findings.

In 1870, using the table he assembled, he believed that it was possible to predict the properties of elements that were not yet discovered. Fortunately, he was successful to predict the properties of three unknown elements that had not yet been discovered. These were eka- aluminum, eka-boron, and eka-silicon. He proposed the properties of each element such as its density, radius, and combining ratios with oxygen. However, the world of science did not take his thoughts very seriously. In 1875, a French named Lecoq de Boisdaudran discovered one of the predicted elements (eka- aluminum) which had the same properties as Mendeleev predicted.

Boisdaudran named the newly discovered element as Gallium. The other predicted elements were discovered years later and named after the region or country where in was found. Their properties were in accordance to the predicted properties of Dmitri. At this time, Mendeleev regained the trust of the skeptic science world. In 1890, he decided to resign from the university due to political turmoil and social inequality. He grew witnessing his countrymen’ repressed and unequal situation. At that time, he believed that science is a tool that will seek equality in the life of humans- social and political- and the entire universe.

He used his fame and power to speak out his thoughts against inequality. However, his request to resign at the university was rejected by the Minister of Education. However, the Minister did not agree on his plan and he believed that Mendeleev should pursue his career and not involve himself to politics. While doing his final lecture at the University of St. Petersburg, policemen were summoned to obstruct the lecture because they feared that he might influence the minds of the students and lead them into a rebellion. His prestige and power did not end after his resignation and in 1903 he was chosen as the Director of Weights and Measures.

Mendeleev’s transcripts, as the results of his findings and studies, were more than 250. His very first transcript was published in 1854 and was entitled “Chemical Analysis of a Sample from Finland”. Meanwhile, his last transcripts such as “A Project for a School for Teachers” and “Towards knowledge of Russia” were published in 1906. In 1905, he listed what he considered his greatest contributions to the world of science. Expectedly, he included the Periodic table, the elasticity of gases, the understanding of solutions as associations, and his book, “The Principles of Chemistry”.

He had made other contributions to other field of chemistry. In field of physical chemistry, he examined the expansion of liquids with heat. He also and managed to devise a formula alike to the law of the uniformity of the expansion of gases formulated by Gay-Lussac. Meanwhile, he introduced the metric system to the Russian Empire. He also made some studies on the origin of petroleum and concluded that hydrocarbons were not biogenic were formed in the depths of the earth. In 1902, Mendeleev formulated a hypothesis that two elements existed having smaller atomic weight than hydrogen.

The lighter of these elements were chemically inert and very mobile and which constitute “aether”. Because of his contributions to the world of science, the Russian chemist and science historian L. A. Tchugayev regarded him as “a genius chemist, and a supreme physicist. Aside from chemistry and physics, he also contributed in the field of economics. He was an innovative thinker with regard to economics and was an expert on chemical industry, generally on industry. The rest of his life was flooded by numerous awards from various organizations.

In 1882, Mendeleev was awarded a Davy Medal from the Royal Society of England. He was also awarded in 1905 a Copley Medal which was the Society’s highest award and honorary recognition from the universities all over the world. His life was solely dedicated to the world of science. In January 1907, his physical condition became worse due to pneumonia and at the age of 73, Mendeleev peacefully left the world.

Works Cited

“Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907)”. Corrosion Doctors. http://www. corrosion-doctors. org/Biographies/MendeleevBio. htm

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