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Newlands, John Alexander Reina

elements eighth chemist chemistry

(1837–98) British chemist: devised primitive form of periodic classification of chemical elements.

Newlands studied chemistry in London under and later became an analytical chemist, specializing in sugar chemistry. In 1860 he spent a period in Italy as a volunteer in Garibaldi’s army; his mother, Mary Reina, was of Italian descent.

In 1864, and during the next 2 years, Newlands showed that if the chemical elements are numbered in the order of their atomic weight and tabulated, then ‘the eighth element starting from a given one is a kind of repetition of the first, like the eighth note in an octave of music’. Thus his law of octaves (as he called it) showed the halogens grouped together and the alkali metals in another group. He did not leave gaps for undiscovered elements and his rigid scheme had some unacceptable features and was much criticized; one critic asked him derisively if he had tried an alphabetical arrangement. In 1869 published a table which is essentially modern; Newlands then tried to claim priority and was so persistent that the Royal Society awarded him its Davy Medal in 1887. They did not elect him to their Fellowship. Newlands certainly had a part of the periodic classification in mind, but he did not develop the idea as effectively as did Mendelayev or J L Meyer (1830–95).

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