The World’s Smallest Periodic Table

There are world records for just about everything. The field of science is made up of many different areas, so there is endless potential for world records to be created in science. As science and technology also advance, new innovations and techniques can lead to better ways of doing things. Science world records are a way to celebrate science and new technology in a fun and exciting way. One of the interesting science world records is the world’s smallest periodic table.


The Periodic Table

The periodic table of elements is a table of all the chemical elements known to man. The number of elements in the table has grown with new discoveries of additional elements. In 2016, there were 118 elements listed. Most of these occur naturally, while some of the later ones, about 24 in total, are synthesized in the lab.

All matter is made up of these basic elements. This applies to human beings, the food we eat, the soil, the air, and the water, just to give some examples. Some elements are more common and well known than others. Oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen, for example, are the most common building blocks in all living materials. In the Earth’s crust, the most common elements are oxygen and silicon, followed by aluminum. Water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen. Rare elements include astatine, a naturally occurring radioactive element, as well as lanthanum, neodymium, and scandium.

The periodic table is an important universal science tool. Its general form is standardized and made official by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The elements are arranged by their mass and grouped according to their similar atomic structure. The periodic table is also an important learning material for chemistry education.

Setting a World Record

The Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest periodic table is currently held by the University of Nottingham in the UK. This year, 2019, they have gone further to break their own 2010 record.

In 2010, a team of scientists from the university’s Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre set out to break the world record by creating a very minute periodic table. They did just that by carving the periodic table onto a single strand of hair. This was the hair of chemist Martyn Poliakoff. For this, they needed an ion beam writer as well as an electron microscope. The result was a tiny periodic table about the size of one 1 millionth of a post-it note.

In 2019, researchers from the university used electron beam lithography to engrave an even smaller periodic table onto a silicon chip. This involved a beam of electrons being aimed at a polymer film to create a 3D structure similar to a stencil. This was then used to etch the periodic table and two portraits onto the silicon chip using some advanced ion etching methods. Finally, the carvings were topped with a thin layer of gold.

The new record periodic table takes up less than 2.5% of the area of the previous record. Also on the silicon chip, they carved out miniature portraits in honor of two science figures. One is Yuri Oganessian, who has an element on the periodic table named after him. The other is Dmitri Mendeleev, who discovered the periodic system over a century ago.

The timing of the University of Nottingham’s new world record was also quite significant. 2019 has been marked as the International Year of the Periodic Table. It has been 150 years since Dmitri Mendeleev made his groundbreaking discovery. For the anniversary celebrations of the significant discovery held at the University of Nottingham on March 13, 2019, Yuri Oganessian gave the keynote lecture.

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