One of the most unlikely success stories in the history of chemistry is the one of Dmitry Mendeleev. Mendeleev was born in Tobolsk in Siberia on February 8, 1834. He was the youngest child in a family of 14 children. His father was a teacher at the Tobolsk high school. His mother tried to take over support of the family by building a glassworks in the nearby town of Axemziansk. Mendeleev was an average student. He learned science from a brother-in-law. Dmitry completed high school at the age of 16. The death of his father and destruction of his mother's glassworks by a fire had left the family devastated. In 1850, through the efforts of a family friend, she was able to enroll Dmitry at the Central Pedagogical Institute in St. Petersburg. A few months later, Mendeleev's mother died.
The achievement with which Mendeleev's name will associated with was his creation of the periodic law. He began by making cards for each of the known elements. On each card, he recorded an element's atomic weight, valence electron, and other chemical and physical properties. Then he tried arranging the cards in various ways to see if any pattern could be created. Eventually he was successful. He saw that, when the elements were arranged in ascending order according to their weights, their properties were shown in an orderly manner. He also found three places in the periodic table where elements were missing.
Mendeleev graduated from the Pedagogical Institute in 1855 and then traveled to France and Germany for graduate study. While at Heidelberg with Robert Bunsen, he discovered the critical temperature, the highest temperature when a liquid and its vapor can exist in equilibrium. Credit for this discovery is usually given to Thomas Andrews who made the same discovery independently two years later.
With a troubled life, Dmitri Mendeleev was able to overcome many obstacles. Getting an education and then creating the periodic table he contributed to science in a...