Click to view larger image A periodic table grouping elements by their masses —that is, by the amount of matter their atoms contain—was proposed by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869 Credit: © The Print Collector/Alamy Images

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Mendeleev’s Russian language periodic table was published 150 years ago in 1869. Credit: © The Print Collector/Alamy Images

Two qualities of Mendeleev’s 1869 table made it superior to previous attempts. First, Mendeleev did not organize the elements strictly by mass. Instead, he switched the order of some elements on the basis of their chemical properties. Second, he deliberately left gaps in his table where no known elements seemed to fit. Mendeleev correctly predicted that these gaps represented elements that had not yet been discovered.

Around the same time as Mendeleev, the German chemist Julius Lothar Meyer independently developed a similar periodic table. However, his table was not published until 1870.