Chemistry - The Periodic Table (AQA Syllabus A)

A basic understanding of the fundamental ideas in chemistry is required of students in GCSE Science. This is the second of six quizzes going over these fundamental ideas and it looks specifically at the periodic table.

The periodic table is a fundamental part of chemistry and we take it and its usefulness for granted, but that hasn't always been the case. In the first half of the 19th Century, various people had been trying to make sense of the elements and see if there was any order amongst them. Scientists had spotted that there were some similarities in the way that some elements behaved during chemical reactions, but not enough to create anything other than a few simple patterns. A big problem was that many elements had not been discovered at the time. It was a bit like trying to set out a jigsaw of over 100 pieces using only about 30 random pieces (including several from a different jigsaw) and having no picture to work from! Some scientists still believed that there were only 4 elements - those decided on by the ancient Greeks - fire, earth, air and water!

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A French scientist, Antoine Lavoisier, gathered together a list of everything that he believed to be an element in 1789 - but in no particular order. An element was defined as a substance that could not be broken down further so some of his elements were in fact compounds. Following the discovery of electricity the British scientist, Humphrey Davy, experimented with passing it through the elements on Lavoisier's list. In doing this he found that some of them could in fact be broken down into simpler substances, the list of true elements increased.

When scientists learnt to measure the atomic masses of elements, they started to use this property to arrange the elements. A German chemist, Johann Döbereiner, spotted that there were groups of three elements that seemed quite similar in their properties and noted that the atomic mass of the middle one was the average of the other two. He had spotted the start of several of the periodic table groups.

A British scientist, John Newlands, took it further. He arranged the elements in order of atomic mass and noticed that every eighth element seemed to behave in a similar way. Finally, the key step was taken by a Russian, Dimitri Mendeleev. His ideas were similar to Newlands' and he arranged the elements in order of their atomic mass. The difference was that he left gaps where he thought that elements had not been discovered. When the first of these 'missing elements' was found and seen to have the properties Mendeleev predicted, scientists in the world of chemistry knew he was onto something.

Since then, scientists have started to understand atomic structure. The modern periodic table is arranged in order of atomic number. We now know that it is the electrons and how they are arranged that give the elements their chemical properties.

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  1. How are the elements of the periodic table arranged?
    In general, the atomic mass also increases as the atomic number increases - but that isn't always the case
  2. The periodic table was originally arranged in order of atomic mass. We now know that it is the electron arrangement that determines how the elements react. Which of the following is the correct description of how you work out the electron arrangement of the first 20 elements?
    Each energy level (shell) must be filled before going on to the next
  3. Which of the following is true about the elements in a group?
    The difficulty here should have been choosing between the 'same' properties and 'similar' properties. The key difference is that there is a pattern in their reactivity - but you don't need to remember that for the exam!
  4. Where do you find the metals and non-metals in the periodic table?
    The dividing line is a zig-zag starting between boron and carbon, extending until it reaches the halogens. The elements immediately to the left of this line show some properties of metals and some properties of non-metals
  5. Lithium is at the top of Group 1. It reacts with water to form lithium hydroxide and hydrogen. Rubidium is lower down the group, when it reacts with water it produces what?
    When you know the chemical reactions of one member of a group, you know the reactions of the others. Knowing that little gem could save you a lot of revision time!
  6. Group 8 is sometimes numbered as group 0 or group 18. What are the elements of this periodic table group called and why are they unreactive?
    The noble gases are unreactive because having a full outer energy level (shell) is a stable arrangement
  7. Where do you find the transition metals?
    The transition metals are found in the central block and one of the properties that makes them stand out is that they form coloured compounds
  8. Why do elements of the same group have similar chemical properties?
    Chemical reactions involve the electrons in the outer energy level (shell) so if two elements have the same number of electrons in the energy level (shell) they will react in similar ways
  9. Which of the following statements best describes the elements in a period?
    As you pass along a period, each chemical reacts differently
  10. The elements are arranged in groups and periods. What is a period on the table?
    The end of a period is marked by the noble gases

Author: Kev Woodward

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