OK, it is not quite cutting-edge new; in fact, the Royal Society of Chemistry launched the Visual Elements project way back in the 1990s, and the Visual Elements Periodic table web site was winning “best of the web” type awards by 2003 and hasn’t seen major updates in about 5 years. Still, it remains pretty cool.
The periodic table of elements is ubiquitous in chemistry labs, textbooks, and classrooms across the world. There is real genius (and a sense of the inevitable) involved in the identification, classification, and arrangement of the known (and unknown, but “must exist”) elements into the periodic table. The periodic table is all about communicating information and relationships about the constituent chemical elements, and it is very good at that but, you will agree, it is a little…well…boring to look at.
The Visual Elements is an arts and science collaborative project from the Royal Society of Chemistry that uses the tried and true layout of the periodic table, but substitutes new, dynamic, and very interesting imagery for each of the elements. The imagery is drawn from “…the symbolism that surrounds them [the elements] from the commonplace to the mythological,” and includes alchemical symbols, computer-generated 3D textures, and rich color palates.
The online version of the Visual Elements Periodic Table is interactive, allowing visitors to click on any element to view a web page featuring a larger version of that element’s visualization as well as a brief history of the element (when, where, and by whom it was discovered), the origin of its name, a short description of the element, and information about the visual representation. Additionally, each page provides a link to a more in-depth “chemical data” page for that element (chemical data includes appearance, source, uses, physical information, key isotopes, ionization energies, oxidation states, and other information).
The site is rounded out by an essay detailing the history of the periodic table, as well as additional images (“Periodic Landscapes” that attempt to visualize relationships between the elements in innovative ways, only sometimes successful, to my mind) and videos/animations. If you would like to see a larger print version of the Visual Elements Periodic Table, visit us at the Kresge Library and look at the wall behind the reference stacks (and please, if you’re not sure what or where the reference stacks are, ask!).