The periodic table in haiku

Originally published at: The periodic table in haiku | Boing Boing


And just one of four
Named after the Swedish town
Known as Ytterby


Thank you for sharing
A truly wonderful thing
This Sunday morning!


A good place to note
This periodic design
Is far from the best

(The idea of the periodic table comes from real insights about inorganic chemistry, but the standard format doesn’t express it in a very graspable way. The Janet form would be a reasonable replacement for general use, and there are many, many other schemes that look cooler and/or illuminate different patterns. Some kina spiral diagram really makes a lot more sense)


I did not recall
thallium being so dark
turned in a hurry

Screen Shot 2022-01-16 at 11.36.39 AM


It was always hard
to remember my table
and will always be


All models are wrong
But some can be more useful
To display info




The Janet form is nice if you don’t really care about the total number of occupied energy level an atom has, or keeping the alkali metals together, but…why wouldn’t you? With the single exception that the lanthanides and actinides are moved to the bottom for space, I don’t see how the standard form is any harder to understand. There are reasons people use it beyond simple tradition.


I’m not sure what you mean there; the only difference is that it puts helium and the f-block elements in the grid, rather than floating off on their own. (I’m ambivalent whether the s-block should go on the right, but it does make more sense design-wise).

My problem with high-school chemistry teaching is it focuses on learning a lot of tenuous “rules” which create more confusion than the actual chemistry they’re supposed to explain (and which you spend your first year as a chemistry undergrad unlearning). Like, an element’s “group” supposedly determines its chemistry, but only if it’s in group 1, 2, 17 or 18, and it’s not too heavy, and isn’t hydrogen, and if you pretend helium is in group 18 (even though you can’t then explain what a group is) …basically it would be a lot easier to just stop trying to make the periodic table explain more than it does.

The Janet form still has all the “alkali metals” and “alkaline earth metals” in the same column, and you can note that they have similar chemistry. And you can explain why hydrogen and helium don’t (because they don’t have filled p-orbitals). But really it’s just an ordered list of elements, showing what type of orbital is partially filled for each element. Which is all you can really tell from a periodic table. If you want to know the preferred oxidation states of lead or chromium, you have to look it up elsewhere; there’s no point pretending the periodic table alone has all the answers.

There’s a decent film
About thallium murders
With fifties music


Putting the s-block on the right means you have for instance 4 shells in the period that otherwise has 3 shells, and while the first few tables keep the alkali metals together the latter ones with ionization potentials don’t. If all you wanted to was to put the f-block in the grid, that much makes perfect sense, just makes a very wide table.

1 Like

Do you mean, because boron has two blank spaces before it, you could choose to read that as representing empty f- and d-shells (but then you could say the same about the traditional layout)?

However you draw it, you have to know that you’re counting electrons from all the previous rows. That is clearer in spiral layouts, and perhaps we should use those, except that it raises more issues design-wise.

No. I mean that neon has electrons in two shells and sodium has them in three, argon has them in three and potassium in four, and so on.

Well sure, but how are you reading that information from the normal periodic table (e.g. with respect to germanium vs. zinc)?

…The total number of shells is literally the row on the normal table. Germanium and zinc for instance both have electrons in four shells. In the case of zinc, the outer shell is 4s2 since it’s still in the d-block, and in the case of germanium it’s 4s2 4p2 since we’ve moved two into the p-block. Not sure what you’re getting at here. :confused:

Oh sorry I see what you’re saying. Yes, in the traditional layout the row corresponds to the highest principal quantum number n (the “number of shells”). But that’s a sort of arbitrary piece of information? Subshells actually fill up in order of n + l, so if anything it is more useful to group elements by that quantity, which is what the Janet form does.

Then, if you want to read an element’s electronic structure from the table, you can apply a slightly simpler pattern as shown on the left in this image. Though, again, I’m not sure this sort of thing is helping anyone grok chemistry, especially in high school.

I like it - but what I really want are limericks.


When Dimitri set forth his design
For elements pulled from a mine
He tried first with helical
Then cubes, squares and conical,
Then decided that rows would be fine