Wayne State University students came together with students from four other Michigan schools to create the world’s largest periodic table on the Wayne State University athletic fields Oct. 23.

Wayne State University students came together with students from four other Michigan schools to create the world’s largest periodic table on the Wayne State University athletic fields Oct. 23.

Photo provided by Jessica Archer

Wayne State students create world’s largest periodic table

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published October 24, 2019

DETROIT — Students at Wayne State University joined together with students from four other Michigan universities to set a new world record for the largest periodic table.

The students gathered at Wayne State’s athletic fields in Detroit Oct. 23 to put the enormous project together. Representing every chemical element, the giant table was 195,000 square feet in size, more than three times the size of a football field. Each of the 118 elements took up a tile 30 feet long and 40 feet tall.

“Today we are assembling the periodic table here on the athletic fields,” said Sue White, laboratory manager in the Wayne State University Chemistry Department and school adviser for the American Chemical Society. “We did mock-ups of each element so we knew where each would be going ahead of time. We are assembling it from the bottom up, starting with the actinides and moving up.”

The students and faculty who organized the project had worked for months to prepare.

“I attended the Central Regional Meeting for the American Chemical Society. While we were there, two of the co-advisers from the University of Michigan-Flint came up to me and told me about this idea that they wanted to put together — the largest periodic table in the world,” White said. “They wondered if Wayne State would like to be involved because we have bigger facilities, and we said, ‘Yes.’”

“We heard from our advisers that another group at U of M-Flint was interested in this project, and they wanted some help from us because we have a lot of researchers here,” added Urvashi Thongam, president of the Wayne State University American Chemical Society. “Now we are working with four other schools and have been putting this together for the last three months.”

The table was created out of waterproof tarps painted with the information for each element. Students from Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Flint, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Lawrence Technological University and the University of Detroit Mercy, as well as members of the Detroit section of the American Chemical Association, contributed to its formation.

“The student clubs came together and bought — literally — a ton of tarps,” White said. “We got together with the schools, and our parking department let us paint inside one of the parking structures, so we spent several Sundays throughout the last few weeks painting them there. We got as many volunteers as we could from the five schools.

“We want everyone to know that when we are finished, the tarps that aren’t being kept by the schools to commemorate this project will be donated for disaster relief,” she added.

It was done Oct. 23, which is Mole Day — a day that chemists use to commemorate one of their most important units and promote their field.

“Mole Day is the celebration of the unit of mole, which is a unit in chemistry which is widely used in everything, and it’s 6.02214076 × 10²³, so we celebrate it on Oct. 23,” White explained. “It’s a big day for chemists, so we thought that it’s a great day to celebrate science.”

It also stemmed from 2019 being declared the International Year of the Periodic Table, which marks the 150th year since its original creation.

“We were interested in doing something for awareness for the International Year of the Periodic Table,” said White. “I think because it’s National Chemistry Week and Mole Day, anything we can do to reach out into the community and teach them science is fun and adventurous is worth it. I was able to tell people that there are actually more elements in the periodic table now than there were when they learned about it in school. It’s a really fun thing to do to promote science.”

The students and volunteers spent the day battling heavy winds to secure each tile in place and display it for the world to see.

“It’s been crazy,” remarked Thongam. “I didn’t know what to expect. You don’t try to make world records every day. It’s kept us crazy busy, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

She and her fellow students hope this will broaden the horizons of people who may not be familiar with chemistry or the importance of the periodic table.

“I hope to bring more awareness to people of the science community and teach the community in general some more about science and chemistry and the periodic table,” Thongam said. “This is the International Year of the Periodic Table, so we really like getting to take advantage of that.”

The students believe it is a great step for the school and the community as a whole.

“I think this is a great look for Wayne State and all of (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” said Frank Yenchick, the public relations manager for the Wayne State American Chemical Society. “It brings a new look into the sciences and that you can have a lot of fun within academia. You can get smart and have fun at the same time.”