The Periodic Table Just Got So Much Cooler

How much do the letters and numbers of the periodic table really mean to you?. Jason Winter/Shutterstock

Memorizing the elements on the periodic table was one of the joys of chemistry class — if you feel joy in such things.

Maybe you used flash cards or maybe you just stared at the color-coded chart until the abbreviations started to swim in front of your eyes.

But other than committing the elements to memory, did you really learn their true purpose? Of course, you know that you can find oxygen in the air and sodium in salt. But when it comes to some of the more obscure elements on the periodic table, do you honestly have a clue?

A cool new interactive periodic table lets you click on all the elements and a pop-up window gives you loads of information. For example, did you know that strontium is found in red fireworks and nuclear fallout? Holmium is in computer discs and laser surgery? Osmium in pen tips and needles? Probably not.

The colorful science tool is the work of Seattle software engineer Keith Enevoldsen. Teachers and science geeks can check out the interactive table or learn more from his website.

snippet of periodic table with pictures
Enevoldsen's colorful, interactive periodic table pops up pictures and explanations for how each element is used. Keith Enevoldsen

"I've always liked science and art," Enevoldsen says. "When I was a kid, I liked periodic tables with pictures, but they never had good pictures of all the elements; they had lots of blanks."

Enevoldsen also read Isaac Asimov's "Building Blocks of the Universe," which had stories about the uses of all the elements.

"It was full of interesting tidbits, like the fact that chemists that touched tellurium would get bad breath," he says.

When he was an adult, Enevoldsen decided to create the periodic table in pictures — the way he'd wanted to see it as a child. Each element has a graphic of how it is (or was) used, some interesting information, and its atomic symbol and atomic number. The colorful info-packed chart is so popular that occasionally, his website goes offline for a while because of all the people who stop by to check out the periodic table.

And in case you were wondering, palladium is used in dentistry and pollution control. Antimony is found in matches and car batteries. And polonium? Anti-static brushes, of course.