The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction

Eric R. Scerri
Very Short Introductions
  • Considers the fundamental nature of the periodic table to the physical sciences
  • Explores the history of the discovery of trends among elements, to the construction of various forms of the table, and the growth of understanding of its meaning
  • Touches on key ideas about both early atomic theory and quantum mechanics, showing how they have proved key to the meaning of the table
  • Ideal for those who are curious to learn more about the periodic table and essential for any student of physics and chemistry

Here, Eric Scerri looks at the trends in properties of elements that led to the construction of the periodic table, and how the deeper meaning of its structure gradually became apparent with the development of atomic theory and quantum mechanics, so that, as Scerri puts it, one science, physics, arguably came to colonize another, chemistry, although such a view is resisted by chemists. Scerri shows that quantum mechanics is absolutely central to chemistry, as it underlies the behaviour of all of the elements and their compounds, and therefore underpins the structure of the periodic table. 

Concluding with an overview of the huge variety of periodic tables that have been proposed in the print media and on the Internet, he explores the debated question of whether there is an optimal periodic table and what form it might take.


1: Introduction
2: Atomic weight, Triads and Prout
3: Steps towards the periodic table
4: Triumph of a Russian genius
5: The impact of the new physics
6: How the electron explains the periodic table
7: How chemists reacted
8: Quantum Mechanics makes further advances
9: Forged in the stars
10: Back to Chemistry
11: Why so many tables? Which is best?
Further reading


Dr Eric Scerri is a lecturere in chemistry as well as hisotry and philosophy of science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of three books, The Periodic Table: Its story and its significance, (OUP, 2007), Collected Papers on the Philosophy of Chemistry (Imperial College Press, 2008), and Selected Papers on the Periodic Table(Imperial College Press, 2009). He has authored over 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals and many articles in popular science magazines including Scientific American, American Scientist, Cosmos, and Chemical Heritage, among others. He is the editor of the Springer journal Foundations of Chemistry.

"an ideal ... gift to anyone intersted in the "central icon" of the "central science", especially students and young persons in general." - Foundations of Chemistry

"Scerri's writing is lively, engaging, and accessible." - Journal of Chemical Education

"Overall this stylish and snappy book will entertain and enlighten you, and its convenient size means it can do so when you're on the go" - Chemistry World