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Dimitri Mendeleev: biography of the chemist author of the periodic table

Dimitri Mendeleev: biography of the chemist author of the periodic table

June 26, 2024

Probably a large part of the people who read these lines will have seen, studied or worked with the periodic table, which consists of the different elements ordered by their atomic weight and valence. Although today we see this table as something that, although complex, represents a logical order and we take for granted its veracity, the truth is that its creation is very recent in the time that was originally little taken into account.

The author of this table is the famous chemist Dimitri Mendeleev, whose biography we are going to make a brief review in this article.

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The biography of Dimitri Mendeleiev

Dimitri Mendeleiev, whose full name was Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeléyev, was born on February 8, 1834 from our Gregorian calendar in Tobolsk, Siberia . Born into a large family, he was the youngest of seventeen brothers children of the school director Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleiev and Mariya Dmitriyevna Kornilevas.


During the same year of his birth his father lost his job as well as his vision, which led to a situation that was somewhat precarious for the family. Fortunately, her mother went on to run a crystal factory owned by her family. This generated little curiosity in the little Mendeleev, and his mother often took him to the factory with her.

In this factory I would meet one of the chemists who worked there , something that would end up generating in the young person (along with the influence of an exiled brother-in-law) a great interest in scientific subjects.

Early education

In regard to his education in childhood, already in it the young Mendeleev showed some interest in aspects such as mathematics and physics . However, the ratings on the rest of the topics were rather low. Despite this, he managed to get his bachelor's degree back then.


The year 1848 would be a difficult year for the young man, since during this his father died. In addition, during the month of December of the same year, the factory that managed his mother suffered a fire that ended with its destruction. The family moved to Moscow, due to the fact that her mother decided to dedicate her savings in the education of the youngest of the family.

However, due to his Siberian origin he was denied access to the University of that city. After that they moved to St. Petersburg , where for the same reasons he could not access the university. However, he was finally able to enroll in the Main Pedagogical Institute of the latter city.

When he was around twenty years of age, he who would be one of the greatest chemists in history presented several health problems, among them the presence of violent coughs that were sometimes accompanied by blood . This suggested possible tuberculosis, but he managed to recover from his condition (whether or not it was a case of tuberculosis, something that is not entirely clear).


He graduated in 1855, dying his mother shortly before, presenting a thesis About specific volumes. After that he obtained a place as a teacher in a school in the Crimea. However, a few months later he moved to the city of Odessa in Ukraine as a teacher at a local lyceum .

In 1856 he obtained a scholarship that helped him to move to Germany, expanding his studies at the University of Heidelberg and even owning a laboratory in his own home. In this stage he was able to meet great personalities of chemistry and physics, such as Kirchhoff or Cannizzaro, and even participate in the International Chemistry Congress of Karlsruhe. Later I would return to St. Petersburg.

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Professional life and scientific contributions

For the year 1864 he was appointed Professor of Technology and Chemistry at the Technical Institute of St. Petersburg and three years later he held the Chair of Chemistry at the University of the same city. However, his reformist ideas and liberal tendencies did not like the elite of the moment, being denied membership in the Imperial Academy of Sciences.

It would be in 1869 when he would publish the book Principles of Chemistry, in which would make its contribution to the best known science, the periodic table . Said table started by classifying the elements in an increasing way according to their atomic mass, establishing an ordering from lowest to highest and even proposing the existence of elements not yet discovered with properties located between two of those already recognized.

However, although this would be his most recognized contribution is not the only one: Mendeleev worked on topics as varied as the expansion of liquids, the search and discovery of the critical point and great contributions that allowed to improve the Russian oil industry.

He also made various contributions such as the preparation of smokeless gunpowder (developing his own formula). However, in 1890 he resigned his post at the university after a conflict due to his support for student protests.

He retired from political life for a while, but later would come to work as an advisor to the government, including the Ministry of Finance. In 93 he obtained the address of the Office of Weights and Measures (being also a powerful influence in making the metric system reach Russia). Later he explored aspects such as radioactivity (knowing the Curie marriage). He was also part of the team that designed the first icebreaker.

Mendeleev was an internationally recognized figure, to the point of having been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1906 . However, the award was granted to Henri Moissan.

Other aspects that aroused his interest were the exploration and study of solar eclipses or research on fertilizers. Also, his study of liquids and their combinations would help to generate a specific form of vodka, which gives it its characteristic 40 degrees of alcohol.

Personal life

Dimitri Mendeleiev had a complicated life, not only professionally but also personally. He was forced by one of his sisters to marry in 1862 with Feozva Nikitichna Leschiova, with whom she had a stormy and difficult relationship and whose relationship resulted in three children (one of whom died). However, nine years later they separated.

At this time, in which he had already separated but not yet divorced, he fell in love with Anna Ivanovna Popova, a music student with whom he had a relationship. His still wife refused to give him a divorce initially, although he was granted four years later.

In 1882 he would marry Anna Ivanovna , despite the fact that the seven years required by the legislation to remarry after their divorce had not yet passed. This would generate a great controversy and controversy in the Russian society of the time, this being considered bigamy, but it was decided that the punishment would not correspond to the contracting parties but to who officiated the wedding. This last marriage was quite happy, being born from their relationship four more children.

Death and legacy

Dimitri Mendeleev died in St. Petersburg at the age of 72 years, on February 2, 1907. His death is associated with suffering from influenza, but also could be associated with the supposed tuberculosis that he suffered in his youth . He also points out that he suffered a considerable loss of vision, to the point that he practically became blind.

His death was a serious blow to science. Nevertheless, in spite of the great importance of his work, his death did not have a great impact on the Russia of that time, probably due to his liberal and reformist ideas, which did not agree with the ideology of the system in which he lived.

His legacy and his wide contribution to science is still valid today, being its systematization of the different elements object of study and having allowed the discovery of multiple elements with the step of the times. There is, in fact, an element called mendelevio in his honor.


The Periodic Table: Crash Course Chemistry #4 (June 2024).


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