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“Dream, dream, dream. Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action”- these are the words of our former President- the Missile Man of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam during an interaction with students. He was a great dreamer, and he motivated the younger generation of the nation to dream high. But his concept of dreams was different from ours. According to him “A dream is not what you see while sleeping, it is something that does not let you sleep.” – (Wings of Fire). No doubt, such dreamers have created this globe as it appears now.
But dreams, during a sound sleep, also have created wonders in this Universe. Our mind- conscious as well as subconscious, can do wonders. In his novel- The Alchemist, when Paulo Coelho said, “When you want something all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, perhaps he might have meant the same that the whole universe (conspiring for you) is none other than your own mind. Most of us might have experienced the power of our subconscious minds that continue to work while we sleep even after an exhausting mind session like a clue to a crossword puzzle, or a solution to sudoku.
Even in the history of science, there have been discoveries that popped up as dreams for those scientists who were working on them. I would like to share one such interesting read with you.
Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, often referred to as The Father of the Periodic Table was a charismatic professor and possessed a great passion for chemistry. He was born in Western Siberia in the year 1834 as the youngest of the 17 children born to his parents. He had a difficult childhood, his father who was a teacher went blind, suffered from tuberculosis and his mother went to work to look after the family. After preliminary education, he could study at St. Petersburg University only due to the efforts of his mother. Later he became a Professor at the same University. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for three consecutive years- in 1905,1906 and 1907 but unfortunately voted out by one of his colleagues at the Royal Academy. He passed away in the year 1907, at the age of 72.
Now the anecdote of the dream which lead to the marvelous proposal of the periodic table goes like this. From the beginning of the 17th century, scientists all over the world were trying to classify the elements. Mendeleev was also obsessed with this. He wanted a logical basis for the classification, not just a simple arrangement. So he made compounds of the elements and studied the properties based on the nature of the compounds. Mendeleev was said to have been inspired by the card game- Solitaire. In the game, cards are arranged both by suit, horizontally, and by number, vertically.
To put some order into his study of chemical elements, Mendeleev made up a set of cards- one for each of the 63 elements known at the time. He wrote the atomic weight and the properties of each element on a card. He carried the cards with him everywhere he went.
On February 17, 1869, right after breakfast, and with a train to catch later that morning, Mendeleev set to work organizing the elements with his cards. He carried on for three days and nights, forgetting the train and continually arranging and rearranging the cards in various sequences until he noticed some gaps in the order of atomic mass. Exhausted from his three-day effort, he fell asleep. He later wrote, “I saw in a dream, a table, where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”
After his dream, Mendeleev drew the table he had envisioned. While arranging these cards of atomic data, he discovered what is called the Periodic Law. When he arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic mass, the properties were repeated. And because the properties repeated themselves regularly, or periodically on his chart, the system became known as the periodic table of elements. He published it in a Russian journal in 1869. He named his discovery the “periodic system”.
This periodic table proved to be the unifying principle in chemistry. Scientists continue to adjust the periodic table even today as new elements are found. Mendeleev’s mission, to clarify chemistry, lives on. Aptly, the genius- Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev is honoured as the Father of Chemistry!