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Essential Elements

4 5 thE agE of ScIEncE alchemy transmutes into chemistry By the eighteenth century scientists were freeing themselves of metaphysical concerns and early experiments comparing weights and masses showed many substances assumed to be elemental were in fact molecules or compounds of several parts. In 1789 the first table of twentythree elements was published by Antoine Lavoisier, soon followed by John Daltons 1808 forerunner to atomic theory which was ignored for 50 years. As scientific techniques improved elements were discovered at a prodigious rate. Noticing how those with similar chemical properties fell into recurring patterns, Mendeleyev created his famed Periodic Table of Elements in 1869, successfully predicting the existence of scandium and germanium. The first hint of stuff smaller than the atom came in 1896, when, unwittingly leaving pitchblende a uranium ore on an unexposed photographic plate, Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity. Early twentieth century discoveries of the surprisingly empty space around the atomic nucleus, the unveiling of the electron orbitals and Einsteins theory that matter and energy were the same thing led Schredinger and friends to the curiously wavy world of quantum mechanics. In 1932 the atom was split for the first time and for the rest of the century scientists explored the oddities of subatomic realms. Huge smashers hurled atoms together to synthesize new heavy elements, at other times breaking them apart to reveal whole families of exotic particles. The universe was made of very strange things indeed.
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