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The Periodic Table: Properties of Groups and Periods

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  1. 1:21 Dmitri Mendeleev
  2. 2:14 Periods
  3. 3:14 Groups
  4. 4:33 Metals
  5. 5:14 Nonmetals
  6. 5:32 Metalloids
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Taught by

Kristin Born

Kristin has an M.S. in Chemistry and has taught many at many levels, including introductory and AP Chemistry.

How is the periodic table like the map you used on your last road trip? In this lesson, you will be introduced to the periodic table, the road map of chemists. We will discuss how the elements are organized and how you can use this organization to identify some of their major physical properties.

The Elements

Russian chemist Mendeleev created an organizational system for the elements
Dmitri Mendeleev

When you're traveling somewhere new, chances are you're going to use a map. Maps come in all forms - some are colorful with little pictures, some have ways of showing different altitudes, and some have the sole purpose of showing state or national boundaries. Either way, just like the spot on a map can tell you information about that location, the position of an element on the periodic table can help you predict some of the element's properties.

An element is a pure substance made up of only one type of atom. Elements are the building blocks of all matter, just like letters are the building blocks of all words. There are currently 118 known elements represented on the periodic table; some are found in nature and others are created in laboratories. Each little block on the periodic table represents one element. Some examples of elements are gold, oxygen, neon, potassium, and tungsten. Each different element has atoms with a different and unique number of protons. This is called the atomic number.

Dmitri Mendeleev

Because there are so many elements, there needs to be a system of organizing them. This is where a Russian chemist by the name of Dmitri Mendeleev comes in. In the late 1800s, when only 60 or so elements had been discovered, Mendeleev decided to arrange the elements in order of increasing atomic weight. While doing this, he also organized them so elements with similar characteristics were grouped together.

In doing this, it was necessary to leave some blank areas in his organization, which later ended up being spots for elements that hadn't been discovered yet. What this means is that his system of organization worked out so well that he could predict both the weights and the properties of undiscovered elements! We are still using this organization today in the periodic table; however, elements are currently organized in order of increasing atomic number.

The horizontal periods in the periodic table
Periodic Table Periods

Periods and Groups

As Mendeleev was arranging the elements in order of increasing atomic weight, he noticed that patterns repeated periodically. Each time a pattern started over, he started a new row. A period on the periodic table is really just a horizontal row. The current periodic table has seven periods with an island of two periods down below. Why is that little island down there? It's really just because if those two rows were put into the periodic table where they belong, the table would take up so much space and would not easily be able to fit onto a piece of paper!

You know how sometimes Alaska gets put in a different location on a map of the United States? Alaska is not REALLY found below California. It's just there to save space. So when you are using the periodic table, just keep in mind where they should belong. The top row of that island is in the 6th period and the bottom row is in the 7th period. Also, you may find that some periodic tables do show these two rows in their correct location.

The vertical columns on the periodic table are called groups or families. Groups probably come in most handy when predicting the properties of an element. Just like people in a family all may share similar traits, elements in the same group on the periodic table also will have similar properties. The groups are numbered from 1-18 from left to right, and some of the groups have special names. For example, excluding hydrogen, all of the elements in Group 1 on the very left-hand side of the periodic table are called alkali metals. Alkali metals are soft and silvery and react violently with water to form an alkaline (or basic) solution.

The vertical groups contain elements with similar properties
Periodic Table Groups

Alkaline earth metals are found in Group 2 and are shiny and silvery white in color. Moving all the way over to the right-hand side of the table, in Group 17 you will find the halogens. Halogens are all very reactive and poisonous, which is why you may find these bacteria-killers in bleaches and disinfectants. The elements in the last group on the periodic table, Group 18, are called the noble gases. Noble gases are all colorless, odorless, and extremely un-reactive. Their inability to react easily makes them a prime candidate for gases in light bulbs.

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