Today in Science History – February 7 – Law of Octaves and the Periodic Table


John Alexander Reina Newlands (1838 – 1898).

February 7, 1863, was the day John Newlands published a paper outlining what would be known as “The Law of Octaves”. Newlands discovered if he ordered the known elements by increasing atomic weight, the chemical properties of the elements would be similar for every eighth group. Since this pattern seemed to follow the same pattern as the piano’s octaves, he called his periodic law the “Law of Octaves”.

Newlands also discovered that nobody seemed to care or was openly hostile. Scientists labeled his ideas as ‘useless’ and ‘arbitrary’ and caused him to give up his work organizing the elements. Newlands took their advice and worked in other areas. Ten years later, two other chemists published periodic laws based on atomic weights. Dmitri Mendeleev and Julius Meyer both independently identified their own versions of the Law of Octaves and showed Newlands’ ideas were neither ‘arbitrary’ nor ‘useless’. The periodic table would follow the increasing atomic weights until the discovery of atomic numbers by Henry Moseley in 1914 and the current periodic table was born.

Notable Science History Events for February 7

2007 – Alan G. MacDiarmid died.

Alan MacDiarmid

Alan MacDiarmid (1927 – 2007)

MacDiarmid was a New Zealand chemist who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Alan Heeger and Hideki Shirakawa for discovering a method to create conductive polymers. Conductive polymers are organic polymers that are modified to conduct electricity and are used as anti-static material and in battery technologies.

1984 – First untethered spacewalk.

Astronaut-EVA MMU

Astronaut Bruce McCandless performing the first untethered spacewalk.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first person to spacewalk untethered to a ship. He tested the manned maneuvering unit with Robert Stewart for the possibility of future extravehicular activities without the umbilical tether. This practice is extremely hazardous and is now only used if an emergency use only.

1960 – Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov died.

Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov

Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov (1903 – 1960)

Kurchatov was the Soviet nuclear physicist who would lead the Soviet nuclear research program to produce the first Soviet atomic weapon, thermonuclear weapon, and the first atomic power plant. He was working on the technical problems involved in producing a chain reaction using uranium when the German invasion of Russia began and halted his research. When intelligence showed the United States and Britain were close to producing a bomb he was reassigned to head the Soviet efforts. His final project was the attempt to produce power from fusion energy.

1926 – Konstantin Petrovich Feoktistov was born.

Feoktistov is a Soviet cosmonaut/engineer who worked part of the team who designed Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz spacecraft. He would go on to head the design team which designed the Salyut and Mir space stations. He also worked on a design for an ion-powered spacecraft for a manned Mars mission.

1918 – Ruth Sager was born.

Sager was an American geneticist who was a pioneer in cytoplasmic genetics where she demonstrated the existence of hereditary determinants other than nuclear genes. She later changed the focus of her career to the genetics of cancer tumors and suppressor genes. She worked on the study of the genetics of how cancer cells multiply to combat the mechanism cancer uses to spread.

1905 – Ulf von Euler was born.

Ulf von Euler

Ulf von Euler (1905 – 1983)

Euler was a Swedish physiologist and pharmacologist who shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Bernard Katz and Julius Axelrod for their work with neural transmitters. He was researching the role of noradrenaline in biological and neural tissues. He discovered it was produced and stored in nerve synaptic terminals.

1897 – Galileo Ferraris died.

Galileo Ferraris

Galileo Ferraris (1847 – 1897)

Ferraris was an Italian physicist and electrical engineer known for his work on rotary magnetic fields. He published the design for his alternating current motor the same year Tesla gained a US patent for an AC motor. His motor used electromagnets at right angles and powered by alternating currents that were 90° out of phase to produce a revolving magnetic field. This device is the principal method used today to convert electric power to mechanical power.

1863 – John Newlands published his “Law of Octaves”.

1824 – William Huggins was born.

William Huggins

William Huggins (1824 – 1910)

Huggins was an English amateur astronomer and a pioneer of spectroscopy. He discovered dark-line spectra that occurs when light passes through a gas. He also found nebulae consisted of glowing gas.

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