Now Showing In 3-D!

by Gabrielle DeMarco on May 13, 2011

One of the most amazing things about the world of matter is that regardless of how different two objects may appear, they can only be comprised of one or more of just 118 known elements.

So, as different as a horse and a jar of mayonnaise may appear on the surface, they are both made the same stuff (mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). But, for as strikingly diverse as the compilations of elements can appear, our standard visualization tool for those elements has remained essentially unchanged for the past fifty years.

Ahhh, the periodic table! You will recall its stodgy glory on your high school chemistry walls. This mainstay of chemistry with its simple arrangement of elements in rows (periods) and columns (groups). And because so many of you are science aficionados yourselves, you will likely also remember that the elements are arranged in order of their atomic number. Today, Michael Aldersley, a research associate in our New York Center for Astrobiology, has given the ol’ PT a makeover. Aldersley recently received a U.S. patent for his invention of a three-dimensional periodic table.

Aldersley has transformed the flat and floppy table into an interactive learning tool that literally leaps off the page. The new 3-D periodic table was created by Aldersley as a tool to teach school children about the elements in a new, more interactive way. The table is comprised of several different cardboard or paper sheets with a series of elements printed on them. The different sections break the elements into groups with similar properties (e.g. Earth metals). The students are then instructed on how to cut out the different groups and fold them into a 3-D structure.

The new table lets the student’s interact and play with the table, helping facilitate learning. It more clearly delineates the different groups of elements based on their origins or properties. It also looks a whole lot cooler. The completed 3-D periodic table invented by Aldersley looks sort of like a 3-D map of the RPI campus – the noble gases are the Low Center for Industrial Innovation, the rare earth elements are the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center…

The complete patent information can be found here.

Aldersley is certainly no stranger to the elements. As a researcher in the astrobiology center he is helping to uncover the elemental starting points for life in outer space. For more on astrobiology at Rensselaer visit them here.