Latest versions of Periodic Table: Magazine foldout and billboard

Latest versions of Periodic Table: Magazine foldout and billboard

Theodore Gray already has made an actual table of the periodic table of the elements – a nice wooden conference table no less – as well as public art and the kind of glossy poster you might buy at an art print store.

Now, he's turned the periodic table into a centerfold and a billboard, kind of.

A version of Gray's periodic table poster, which looks like it would be more at home on a gallery wall than the wall of a high school chemistry lab, is a three-page foldout in the December issue of Popular Science, on sale now.

Meanwhile, he's created a giant – 33 feet long – rendition for the third-floor hallway at University Laboratory High School in Urbana, which received the honor because school officials were the first to agree to make room for the jumbo version.

"I wanted to print one this big, but I didn't have any place to put it," Gray said. "I had to find some institution."

Gray, co-founder of Wolfram Research in Champaign, has a regular column in Popular Science and urged the magazine to make a kind of elemental Miss December of his periodic table.

But the deal closer was probably a series of advertisements Dow Chemical has been running using element tiles from the table superimposed with people's faces and the theme, "Meet the new face of science, the human element." The centerfold, although editorial content, is backed by Dow ads.

The University High version is rendered in an even fancier fashion than the high-resolution glossy posters Gray has been selling, and giving away to local teachers, since September.

"It's a fine art print is what I would call it," he said. "Gallery prints are done this way. This is just a really big one."

"It sure is a heck of a lot nicer than what I grew up with in the '60s," said Sue Kovacs, assistant principal at the high school.

While the jumbo version looks like one piece, Gray actually printed it in sections, which Dean's Superior Blueprint in Champaign attached to a stiff foam backing.

He assembled the sections in the high school's hallway before mounting the conglomeration on adhesive panels attached to the wall. University of Illinois carpenters built a wood frame around it.

Like the smaller versions of Gray's Periodic Table poster, the elements are represented by colorful pictures, along with the standard letters abbreviating the name of, and numbers denoting the atomic weight of, each element, all set on a black background that creates a 3-D effect.

All this started when Gray took a passage in a book to mean that someone had built an actual table of the Periodic Table. Disappointed when he found out they hadn't, he decided to do it himself.

About 2,000 hours and $25,000 later, the result was a conference table he and his Wolfram Research colleagues could use, with hand-tooled inlaid squares for all the elements and, in compartments beneath those squares, a sample of each element – at least those that don't explode, emit dangerous levels of radiation or vanish in an instant.

Publicity over the table led to building Periodic Table displays – including a beautiful, wall-sized Periodic Table cabinet with element samples and a computerized informational kiosk for DePauw University in Indiana – and to a series of short Discovery Channel segments on elements and their properties.

Gray ended up with thousands of element samples as a result, from which the idea for the poster stemmed.

After he offered the poster free to local teachers, he was inundated with requests from around the world, so many that he eventually had to require people who wanted a free poster to pick it up at his office because of the shipping costs.

He's selling versions of the posters in various sizes, and on a place mat, at his Web site, periodictabletable.com. They're also available at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum in Champaign and have been stocked for sale in other museums around the country, including the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

"It certainly is in the thousands," Gray said when asked how many of the posters he's distributed. "I've paid for the print run."

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