Can you give me some biographical tidbits about Mendeleev?

I am working on an extra credit project about Dmitri Mendeleev's life. I am having a hard time finding information on his personal life and his family. I was hoping you had some suggestions on where I could find this information?
Sara K.

Beverly S. Almgren, a Mendeleev scholar at the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University, recommends the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., Chas. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1978) as a good place to start your research. "It's fairly accurate, probably the best in English," she says. "There isn't really a good English biography, but several of us are working on it."

Here are a few odds and ends about Mendeleev that I sometimes use in my lectures here at Frostburg State.

  • Mendeleev's contribution was one of the first periodic tables that emphasized periodicity in valence when elements were ordered by atomic weight. We now know that the elements should be ordered by atomic number rather than by atomic weight. Some texts erroneously state that this is a flaw of Mendeleev's original table. But Mendeleev knew that atomic weight wasn't the central variable in determining chemistry of the elements. In his table, valence took precedence over atomic weight- he correctly put tellurium before iodine so it was in the valence 2 column, even though it is heavier than iodine.
  • Mendeleev's courageous inclusion of gaps in his table for undiscovered elements is one of the reasons he received credit for the discovery of the table and Lothar Meyer gets only second billing.
  • Mendeleev's table shows how important information design is for the progress of science. Reading uncorrelated data is about as helpful as reading phone numbers from a phone book. It's only when the data is arranged in a way that clearly reveals relationships that progress can be made towards understanding the underlying reasons for the data.
  • Mendeleev loved card games. The table looks like a played-out game of solitaire and it's possible that he used cards to arrange his original draft of the table.
  • Mendeleev cut his hair once a year- whether he needed it or not.
  • Mendeleev wrote a chemistry textbook called "Principles of Chemistry". The textbook was extremely popular at the beginning of the 20th century. A copy found its way into the hands of Vladimir Ipatieff, a student enrolled in a Russian military school with few other opportunities for learning about chemistry. Mendeleev's book changed Ipatieff's life. He became an expert in hydrocarbon chemistry, and developed processes for producing "high octane" gasoline and aviation fuels. A new, high performance fuel he created was classified as a top secret formula by the British in World War Two, and was used for the first time by British aviators in the Battle of Britain.

References

Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., Chas. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1978.
Mendeleev (Roger Rumppe and Michael Sixtus)
A biographical essay on Mendeleev with a reference list.
Jaffe, Bernard, Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry, 4th ed., Dover Publications, New York, 1976.
A subjective history of chemistry with several interesting anecdotes.
Rawson, Donald, "The Process of Discovery: Mendeleev and the Periodic Law," Annals of Science, 31 (1975).

Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu



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