General Question

tenureandandlemons's avatar

Do chemists have to memorize all the elements of the periodic table?

Asked by tenureandandlemons (159points) September 15th, 2013

In order. The best I could do is memorize the first thirty elements, but now I don’t care, and I let my memory slip.

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10 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t see why they would “have to”, since most chemists don’t work with all elements. On the other hand, just like readers memorized the alphabet and how to spell and define thousands of words during grammar school, I don’t see any reason that should prevent chemists from not only memorizing the elements (in order), but also knowing what groups and families they appear in, which ones have similar properties to each other, as well as isotopes of each.

Familiarity sometimes breeds more familiarity.

elbanditoroso's avatar

No. They have charts on the wall, just like in a classroom.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Nope. As a grad student chemist I can tell you that’s just not a thing. As @CWOTUS has said, we tend to gain that knowledge over time as we use the elements, but I would have no use with memorizing, say, the lanthanides, or all the oxidation states of the transition metals. It’s simply not germane to my work (though nuclear or electrochemists would probably be quite familiar with those two areas, respectively, and unable to name and draw all the amino acids as I can). It’s like asking if English teachers have to memorize all of Shakespeare. They’ll probably come to know it very well over time, but it’s not a requirement.

And as @elbanditoroso has also said, we have resources for that. I have a fantastic table I keep in my bag that has far more information on it then I could ever possibly memorize.

Neodarwinian's avatar


That is why they have the periodic table of elements.

Though working with the elements gives one a certain familiarity with aspects of these elements.

For instance. I can not forget that oxygen, an electron hog as we biologists say, has an electronegativity of approximately 3.5!

pleiades's avatar

I would imagine you get to a point where when you practice using any particular elements you start to know the rest by default. This is how I understand things anyways.

gailcalled's avatar

It’s easy, as long you don’t have to do them in order and don’t count the recent additions of stuff like LIvermorium (atomic number 116)

The Elements, by Tom Lehrer

CWOTUS's avatar

Maybe a chemist would own a periodic coffee table.

LostInParadise's avatar

There is certainly not much reason to memorize the ones at the end of the table with half lives of under half an hour.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Yes. But only when they’re at university. Once they’ve graduated they’re allowed to look stuff up in books.

mattbrowne's avatar

Like everybody else chemists apply the 80/20 principle. Knowing how the 20% of the most important elements interact covers at least 80% of the most relevant cases. Perhaps it’s even higher when dealing with large parts of organic chemistry: H, C, N, O.

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