John Newlands (chemist)

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John Newlands
John Alexander Reina Newlands.jpg
Picture of John Newlands.
Born26 November 1837 (1837-11-26)
Died21 July 1898 (1898-07-22) (aged 60)
Alma materRoyal College of Chemistry
Known forPeriodic table, law of octaves
AwardsDavy Medal (1887)
Scientific career
FieldsAnalytical chemistry

John Alexander Reina Newlands (26 November 1837 – 29 July 1898) was a British chemist who did work concerning the periodicity of elements.


Newlands was born in England in Surrey, at West Square in Lambeth, the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister and his Italian wife.[1]

He was home-schooled by his father, and later studied at the Royal College of Chemistry. He was interested in social reform and during 1860 served as a volunteer with Giuseppe Garibaldi in his military campaign to unify Italy. Returning to London, Newlands established himself as an analytical chemist in 1864. In 1868 he became chief chemist of James Duncan's London sugar refinery, where he introduced a number of improvements in processing. Later he quit the refinery and again became an analyst with his brother, Benjamin.

Newlands' birthplace in West Square, Lambeth.

Newlands was the first person to devise a periodic table of chemical elements arranged in order of their relative atomic masses.[2] Continuing Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner's work with triads and Jean-Baptiste Dumas' families of similar elements, he published in 1865 his 'Law of Octaves', which stated that 'any given element will exhibit analogous behaviour to the eighth element following it in the table.' Newlands arranged all of the known elements, starting with hydrogen and ending with thorium (atomic weight 90), into seven groups of eight, which he likened to octaves of music.[3][4] In Newlands' table, the elements were ordered by the atomic weights that were known at the time and were numbered sequentially to show their order. Groups were shown going across the table, with Periods going down – the opposite from the modern form of the periodic table.

Newland's table of the elements.

The incompleteness of the table alluded to the possible existence of additional, undiscovered elements. However, the Law of Octaves was ridiculed by some of Newlands' contemporaries, and the Society of Chemists did not accept his work for publication.[5]

After Dmitri Mendeleev and Lothar Meyer received the Davy Medal from the Royal Society for their later 'discovery' of the periodic table, Newlands fought for recognition of his earlier work and eventually received the Davy Medal in 1887.

John Newlands died due to complications of surgery at his home in Lower Clapton, Middlesex, and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery. His business was continued after his death by his younger brother, Benjamin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Newlands, John Alexander Reina (1837–1898)' by Michael A. Sutton, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 5 February 2011.
  2. ^ Like many of his contemporaries, Newlands first used the terms equivalent weight and atomic weight without any distinction of meaning and in his first paper during 1863. He used the values accepted by his predecessors. It is now referred to as standard atomic weight.
  3. ^ Newlands, John A. R. (1864-08-20). "On Relations Among the Equivalents". Chemical News. 10: 94&ndash, 95.
  4. ^ Newlands, John A. R. (1865-08-18). "On the Law of Octaves". Chemical News. 12: 83.
  5. ^ Bryson, Bill (2004). A Short History of Nearly Everything. London: Black Swan. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-0-552-15174-0.

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