Early in the 19th cent., a number of chemists had noticed certain relationships between the properties of elements and their atomic weight. In 1829 J. W. Döbereiner stated that there existed some three-element groups, or triads, in which the atomic weight of the middle element was the average of the other two and the properties of this element lay between those of the other two. For example, calcium, strontium, and barium form a triad; lithium, sodium, and potassium, another. The English chemist J. A. Newlands found (1863–65) that if the elements are listed according to atomic weight starting with the second, the 8th element following any given element has similar chemical properties, and so does the 16th. This became known as the law of octaves. About the same time, A. E. de Chancourtois arranged the elements according to increasing atomic weight in the form of a vertical helix with eight elements in a turn, so that elements having similar properties fell along vertical lines.
D. I. Mendeleev was the first to state the periodic law close to its present form. He proposed in 1869 that the properties of elements are periodic functions of the atomic weight and grouped the elements accordingly in a periodic system. Working independently and not aware of Mendeleev's work, Lothar Meyer arrived at a similar system, publishing his results about a year after Mendeleev's. When Mendeleev devised his periodic table a number of positions could not be fitted by any of the then known elements. Mendeleev suggested that these empty spaces represented undiscovered elements and by means of his system accurately predicted their general properties and atomic weights.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.