In this post I cover some principles of TOK, NOS and the learner profile whilst focusing on our favourite chemistry friend, the periodic table.

2019 has been officially designated ‘The Year of the Periodic Table’. I often wonder who makes these decisions but this one was made at the highest level, by the UN – so I guess we can’t argue with that!

Why 2019 though? Why not 2018, 2020 or another year? Well, the reasoning behind it is that this marks the 150th year since the discovery of the periodic table. Now for some TOK: we all love the periodic table but was it discovered? If you asked me, I would say it was invented (not discovered) – is this an example of NOS with regards to the ‘Public Understanding of Science’? (I.e. specifically statement 5.5: ‘The use of appropriate terminology. Words that scientists agree on as being scientific terms will often have a different meaning in everyday life‘.)1

Let’s not forget who is credited with ‘discovering’ the periodic table. You will all have heard of the story of Dimitri Mendeleev who, in 1869, published his version of the periodic table. What made his publication remarkable was the fact that he had left gaps in his periodic table for undiscovered elements. This again demonstrated some great NOS, statement 2.6 from section 2 (The Understanding of Science) comes to mind here. (‘To be scientific, an idea (for example, a theory or hypothesis) must focus on the natural world and natural explanations and must be testable‘.)2

If the IB had been around at the time of Mendeleev’s amazing publication, what Learner Profile attributes do you think he would show most strongly?

For me, I think the number one attribute would be that he was a risk taker. Being able to stick his neck out, publish something that many would probably scoff at for being unfinished showed enormous strength of character and risk that he took to his future career. If I was in a similar position, I wonder if I would have the strength of character to do this? Other attributes such as open minded and reflective come to mind but I think risk taker is the key one.

And let’s not forget the current version of the periodic table. It has been described as being the most balanced version ever as every group and period is currently full. How long will this last for though? Only time will tell.

Source: Offnfopt, via Wikimedia Commons. (accessed 27 February 2019)

This is a great exercise to do and I would encourage you to carry out a similar task. Pick a famous chemist, look at what they are famous for and pick it apart in terms of TOK, NOS and the learner profile.

Have you got any good ideas for this task? If so, please share them below as I would love to hear from you.


1 International Baccalaureate Organization. 2014. Chemistry Guide. p. 11
2 Ibid. p. 8