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Periodic Table

The International Year of the Periodic Table officially kicks off in Paris

Opening ceremony features periodic tables galore, musical performances, and scientific talks

by Laura Howes
January 30, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 5


The brightly lit main stage at the International Year of the Periodic Table event in Paris.
Credit: Laura Howes
The periodic table took the stage at Unesco headquarters in Paris.

Chemists and physicists from across the world gathered in Paris on Jan. 29 to officially launch the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT).


The year-long celebration of the periodic table coincides with the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev first arranging the known elements into an orderly system based on their properties. Many of the talks at the opening ceremony Tuesday hearkened back to Mendeleev and his table. Mendeleev was, said Nobel Laureate Ben Feringa during his keynote speech, a “real hero of chemistry.”

Feringa also touched on a theme shared among many of the talks at the IYPT opening ceremony: the importance of international collaboration. Chemists “have a universal language using the elements and molecules,” he explained. “We have no borders.”

In addition to talks, the Jan. 29 celebration, held at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters, featured round table discussions and musical performances. Outside the main auditorium, delegates took part in hands-on chemistry demonstrations and admired a display of periodic tables. The collection included several tables made by Japanese schoolteacher Nagayasu Nawa and an 1885 wallchart unearthed by Alan Aitken while he was cleaning a lecture theater at St. Andrews University in 2014. The chart could be the earliest surviving example of a classroom periodic table in the world.

IYPT, with its theme of elements as a common language for science, aims to enhance global awareness of and education in the basic sciences, with a special focus on the countries of the developing world.

Japanese fans at the periodic table exhibit.
Credit: Laura Howes
The periodic table exhibit included these Japanese fans.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, American Chemical Society president Bonnie Charpentier said that ACS hopes scientific societies and educational institutions will come together in 2019 to share the importance of chemistry and the periodic table. “I look forward to seeing all the ways you celebrate IYPT and look forward to discussing ways we can work together,” she added, addressing the assembled throng. ACS publishes C&EN.

The opening ceremony was just the beginning for IYPT. Events and competitions are planned throughout the entire year. These include a global breakfast for women chemists, an attempt to create the world’s largest periodic table in Michigan, and a multitude of outreach activities, including global competitions and local demonstrations.


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