The periodic table is simultaneously one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind and a storybook, something that can be appreciated on many different levels. Here are some of them. This page contains links to all kinds of periodic tables, some straightforward and sober, others more whimsical, or just plain weird (scroll down).
A standard (if loudly colored) table from the science laboratory at Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project. It’s behind the times—it leaves elements 111 and 112 unnamed, and doesn’t acknowledge elements 113, 115, and 117—but it has good information about the rest.
Another standard periodic table, but with a little jazz. I especially like playing with the slider.
At last. A periodic table so small you can have it etched into every single hair on your head.
For the detailed history of the periodic table, there’s no better source than Eric Scerri, a professor at UCLA. (And I highly recommend his book, The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance, both for the history and the philosophical discussions about chemistry as a science.
(N.B.: If you’re more of a visual person, check out this delightfully quirky book, Wonderful Life with the Elements. It’s like the periodic table in graphic novel form!)
One theme I develop at the end of The Disappearing Spoon is that our standard shape for the periodic table, the castle-with-turrets look, isn’t the only arrangement possible. There’s a whole universe of alternatives out there, including one of my favorites, the chemical galaxy—a solar system of elements. (See also the database of periodic tables below.)
This looks familiar somehow. On his very cool blog New Cover, graphic designer Matt Roeser redesigns the covers for books he has read and liked, putting his own stamp on them. He recently took a crack at The Disappearing Spoon. Trey chic.
The periodic table overlain on a map of Manhattan. This could work for any city on a grid, really: instead of telling someone what neighborhood you live in, you just explain what element you live beneath. Mothers would tell you to watch out for the kids from arsenic, of course.
For the adults out there, a periodic table of swear words. The really fantastic thing about this one is that, unlike many “periodic table of whatevers”, the entries in each column really build on each other here, much like elements do. Very clever.
The periodic table … of superpowers! And in this same spirit, superheroes of the periodic table. They include Arsenic (and Old Lace); Cobalt Man; Doctor Phosphorus; Ion (this one’s cheating a little); Iron Avenger; Iron Man; Silver Surfer; The Metal Men (individually: Gold, Iron, Lead, Platinum, Mercury, and Tin); and Titanium Man.
Now, here’s a man almost as obsessed with the periodic table as me. Meet Theodore Grey, who built periodic table table—a wooden coffee table with samples of every element embedded inside. Theo also offers the chance to try and spell your name (or any other word) with element symbols. (“Sam Kean”, sadly, doesn’t work out…)
For those more interested in the form of the table than the elements , check out the incredibly comprehensive Internet Database of Periodic Tables:pre-1900 tables, 1900-1950 tables, 1950-2000 tables, and 2000 and beyond tables. There are too many brilliant and/or nutty designs to highlight, so I’ll restrict myself to seven: