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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Periodic Table Quotes (12 quotes)


For example, there are numbers of chemists who occupy themselves exclusively with the study of dyestuffs. They discover facts that are useful to scientific chemistry; but they do not rank as genuine scientific men. The genuine scientific chemist cares just as much to learn about erbium—the extreme rarity of which renders it commercially unimportant—as he does about iron. He is more eager to learn about erbium if the knowledge of it would do more to complete his conception of the Periodic Law, which expresses the mutual relations of the elements.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 20.
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For me too, the periodic table was a passion. ... As a boy, I stood in front of the display for hours, thinking how wonderful it was that each of those metal foils and jars of gas had its own distinct personality.
[Referring to the periodic table display in the Science Museum, London, with element samples in bottles]
Letter to Oliver Sacks. Quoted in Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001), footnote, 203.
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For the first time I saw a medley of haphazard facts fall into line and order. All the jumbles and recipes and hotchpotch of the inorganic chemistry of my boyhood seemed to fit into the scheme before my eyes—as though one were standing beside a jungle and it suddenly transformed itself into a Dutch garden.
[Upon hearing the Periodic Table explained in a first-tern university lecture.]
As described by the central character in the novel by C.P. Snow, The Search (1958), 27.
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I have presented the periodic table as a kind of travel guide to an imaginary country, of which the elements are the various regions. This kingdom has a geography: the elements lie in particular juxtaposition to one another, and they are used to produce goods, much as a prairie produces wheat and a lake produces fish. It also has a history. Indeed, it has three kinds of history: the elements were discovered much as the lands of the world were discovered; the kingdom was mapped, just as the world was mapped, and the relative positions of the elements came to take on a great significance; and the elements have their own cosmic history, which can be traced back to the stars.
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), Preface, viii.
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If all the elements are arranged in the order of their atomic weights, a periodic repetition of properties is obtained. This is expressed by the law of periodicity.
Principles of Chemistry (1905), Vol. 2, 17.
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The eighth element, starting from a given one, is a kind of repetition of the first, like the eighth note of an octave in music.
'Letter to the Editor', Chemical News (1864), 10, 94.
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The general disposition of the land [in the Periodic Kingdom] is one of metals in the west, giving way, as you travel eastward, to a varied landscape of nonmetals, which terminates in largely inert elements at the eastern shoreline. To the south of the mainland, there is an offshore island, which we shall call the Southern Island. It consists entirely of metals of subtly modulated personality. North of the mainland, situated rather like Iceland off the northwestern edge of Europe, lies a single, isolated region-hydrogen. This simple but gifted element is an essential outpost of the kingdom, for despite its simplicity it is rich in chemical personality. It is also the most abundant element in the universe and the fuel of the stars.
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), 9.
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The same algebraic sum of positive and negative charges in the nucleus, when the arithmetical sum is different, gives what I call “isotopes” or “isotopic elements,” because they occupy the same place in the periodic table. They are chemically identical, and save only as regards the relatively few physical properties which depend upon atomic mass directly, physically identical also. Unit changes of this nuclear charge, so reckoned algebraically, give the successive places in the periodic table. For any one “place” or any one nuclear charge, more than one number of electrons in the outer-ring system may exist, and in such a case the element exhibits variable valency. But such changes of number, or of valency, concern only the ring and its external environment. There is no in- and out-going of electrons between ring and nucleus.
Concluding paragraph of 'Intra-atomic Charge', Nature (1913), 92, 400. Collected in Alfred Romer, Radiochemistry and the Discovery of Isotopes (1970), 251-252.
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When the elements are arranged in vertical columns according to increasing atomic weight, so that the horizontal lines contain analogous elements again according to increasing atomic weight, an arrangement results from which several general conclusions may be drawn.
'The Relations of the Properties to the Atomic Weights of the Elements', Zeitschrift fur Chemie, 1869.
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Without preparing fluorine, without being able to separate it from the substances with which it is united, chemistry has been able to study and to analyze a great number of its compounds. The body was not isolated, and yet its place was marked in our classifications. This well demonstrates the usefulness of a scientific theory, a theory which is regarded as true during a certain time, which correlates facts and leads the mind to new hypotheses, the first causes of experimentation; which, little by little, destroy the theory itself, in order to replace it by another more in harmony with the progress of science.
[Describing the known history of fluorine compounds before his isolation of the element.]
'Fluorine', lecture at the Royal Institution (28 May 1897), translated from the French, in Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1897). In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to July 1897 (1898), 262.
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You can find that sort of regularity in Stock Exchange quotations.
[Expressing his lack of confidence in reported regularities in the periodic classification of elements.]
As quoted in Stanley I. Levy, 'Brauner Memorial Lecture', Journal of the Chemical Society (1935), Pt. 2, 1878. It has also been quoted as “One might just as well seek regularities in the figures of stock exchange bulletins” in L. Vlasov and D. Trifonov, trans. from Russian by David Sobolev, 107 Stories About Chemistry (1970).
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[This] may prove to be the beginning of some embracing generalization, which will throw light, not only on radioactive processes, but on elements in general and the Periodic Law.... Chemical homogeneity is no longer a guarantee that any supposed element is not a mixture of several of different atomic weights, or that any atomic weight is not merely a mean number.
From Chemical Society's Annual Reports (1910), Vol. 7, 285. As quoted in Francis Aston in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 100. Cited in Alfred Walter Stewart, Recent Advances in Physical and Inorganic Chemistry (1920), 198.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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