Science Poetry

Trend Analysis

“Celebrate, elevate
Chart periodic, the chemist’s best friend.  
Innovate, explicate
Lessons perennial,
Elements ordered in table-set trends.”  

The  23 July 2019 Twitter poem was another entry for C&E News’s “Periodic Poetry” contest, highlighting the periodic table and that table’s central role for chemists.  As with the 8 July 2019 poem, this verse doesn’t fully meet the stringent standards of the double dactyl form (a.k.a. the “higgledy piggledy”), but it comes close.  

“Celebrate, elevate / 
Sesquicentennial /
Chart periodic, the chemist’s best friend.” 
The first three lines highlight the celebratory nature of the International Year of the Periodic Table, the 150th (sesquicentennial) anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev’s 1869 initial publication.  The periodic table is an indispensable tool for chemists, presenting a wealth of important data in an organized way.  (As a sidenote, “sesquicentennial” is one of a set of terms uniquely suited for the higgledy-piggledy form, given that it is a double-dactylic word; seeing it in a list of such words provided this poem’s inspiration.)    

“Innovate, explicate / 
Lessons perennial, /
Elements ordered in table-set trends.” 
Each fall, when teaching the history and use of the periodic table, I review my lecture notes, add in new details and examples, and generally attempt to “innovate, explicate [my] lessons perennial.” 

Mendeleev ordered the elements according to their chemical and physical properties, resulting in a chart that can predict relative information about a wide number of behaviors.  For instance, sodium (Na) and potassium (K) are in the same column, or family, in the periodic table.  Because potassium is underneath sodium in their column, a chemist thus can quickly make predictions about their relative atomic size (more precisely called atomic radius); the relative energy required to remove an electron from either atom (called the first ionization energy), and many other properties.  Periodic trends are “table-set”: in many cases, a chemist can use the periodic table to predict the relative magnitudes of elements’ physical and chemical properties.  

It is intriguing to contrast another common meaning of “higgledy-piggledy”– chaotic and disordered— with both the strict rules for this poetic form and the highly organized chemical chart which this poem celebrates!