Technology & Science

Canadian leads revamp of periodic table

An Alberta researcher and an international group of scientists are updating the periodic table of the elements to better reflect how elements vary in the natural world.

Science's ubiquitous periodic table of the elements is getting a fresh face courtesy of a team led by an Alberta researcher.

As part of the revamp, the atomic weights of at least 10 elements — among them oxygen, carbon and nitrogen — are to be restated, said Michael Wiesner, an associate professor at the University of Calgary.

A University of Calgary professor is leading a change to the periodic table which includes restating the atomic weights of 10 elements. ((iStock))

The update is meant to better reflect how the elements vary in the natural world.

To start with, an international group of scientists will restate the weights of 10 elements, classifying them as a low and a high, known as an interval. The interval varies depending on where the elements are found in nature.

"These are the 10 where we've completed the review," Wieser said on Tuesday. "There's another series we're working on right now."

An 11th element, germanium, has had its atomic weight revised. More changes are expected.

Wiesner, who is secretary of the Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Weights for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, has co-authored a paper outlining the revisions in the journal Pure and Applied Chemistry.

"People have used atomic weight data to look at nuclear processes occurring in the solar system … we can say something about the formation of the solar system and the planets," he said.

"People are probably comfortable with having a single value for the atomic weight, but that is not the reality for our natural world.

Practical applications in sports, food inspection

"There is so much information encoded in the atomic weight that I think we can get people excited about science if we can sort of explore why these atomic weights vary the way they do."

The ability to measure atomic weight of elements with greater precision thanks to modern analytical techniques can help with anti-doping in sports.

The atomic weight of carbon found in natural human testosterone, for instance, is higher than in pharmaceutical testosterone, which could help doctors detect performance-enhancing testosterone in athletes' bodies.

The food industry could also benefit, as the revised table could help detect food adulteration. For example, scientists could analyze the carbon in sugar to check if a product has been sweetened artificially.

The first elements to change from a fixed atomic weight to an interval include:

  • Hydrogen
  • Lithium
  • Boron
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen
  • Oxygen
  • Silicon
  • Sulphur
  • Chlorine
  • Thallium

With files from The Canadian Press