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Dmitri Mendeleev, Father of the Periodic Table

Dmitri Mendeleev developed the Periodic Table that organized all of the chemical elements known at that time and many that were not yet known. He placed them in their correct order by their number of atoms (not their weight) and predicted elements that would be discovered in the future. It is amazing that he was able to predict the existence of gallium, scandium and germanium, elements that were discovered soon after he said that they existed. In honor of his brilliance, the element Mendelevium, atomic number 101, was named after him.

One of the Most Incredible Mothers of All Time
Dmitri was the youngest of seventeen children. His college professor father went blind when Dmitri was 14, and his mother supported the family by reviving a dilapidated, abandoned glassware factory. One year later, his father died and the glass factory burned to the ground, leaving his mother to support the two children who were still at home.

Dmitri did poorly in Latin because he hated it, but his brilliance in mathematics and physics convinced his mother that he should get an education in the sciences. In 1849, she took 15-year-old Dmitri and one of his sisters from their native and desolate Siberia and traveled 1100 miles on horseback to Moscow. The city was riddled with political unrest and the faculty at the University were afraid to accept any person who was not from Moscow, so Dmitri was refused admission. His mother did not quit. She took Dmitri and his sister 400 miles further to St. Petersburg where Dmitri was accepted at the University of St. Petersburg, his father’s alma mater, with a full scholarship. Three months later, his mother died of tuberculosis and soon after that, his sister died of the same disease.

He Outworked Everyone Else at the University
Dmitri worked harder than anyone else and at age 19, he was graduated first in his class. At age 23, he received his PhD from the University of St. Petersburg. There he did his brilliant research that explained the structure of atoms and molecules, and created the Periodic Table that is used in every chemistry classroom throughout the world today. He was full professor of chemistry from 1867 to 1890.

Mendeleev did breakthrough research in many different fields of chemistry. He published more than 250 scientific papers and many books. He did advanced research in agricultural chemistry, oil refining, mineral recovery, and even developed a very accurate barometer.

At age 27, he published a student textbook on Organic Chemistry and at age 34, he published “Principles of Chemistry” which was the classic student chemistry text of his time. He was the most popular professor in St. Petersburg. His lectures were always packed with interested students and he was asked to speak all over the world. Mendeleev knew that his worldwide success, fame and brilliant discoveries would never have happened without his mother's courage and sacrifices, and he dedicated his books to her.

His Two Marriages
In 1863, when he was 29, one of his older sisters convinced him to marry Feozva Nikitchna Lascheva. They had two children in a horrible, loveless marriage and argued all the time. Mendeleev lived in St. Petersburg and his wife and children lived at their country estate in Boblovo. In 1876, at age 42, he met a seventeen year old art student, Anna Ivanovna Popov, and wanted to marry her even though he was still married to Feozva. Her family objected for obvious reasons and sent Anna away to Rome to study art. However, Mendeleev followed her and told her that if she would not marry him, he would jump into the sea and drown himself. His divorce from Feozva became final a month after he married Anna. They had four children and stayed together until his death.

Also a Humanitarian
Besides providing one of the most significant advances in chemistry with his Periodic Table, Mendeleev used his fame to champion the downtrodden. On August 17, 1890, he resigned from his tenured university professorship because the Russian Minister of Education refused his petition for better conditions for his students. The Minister told Mendeleev to limit his activities to teaching and not get involved with students and politics. His last lecture at the University of St. Petersburg was stopped by the police because they were afraid that it would start a riot.

Eccentricity and Death
As he grew older, he became less and less concerned with his appearance. He cut his hair and beard only once a year. He was the principal scientific advisor to the Tsar but would not cut his hair even when the Tsar requested it.

He died at age 72 of pneumonia that followed the flu during an influenza epidemic in St. Petersburg in 1907.

Why Influenza Occurs in Epidemics
Airborne flu viruses are so contagious that almost everyone exposed to them gets sick unless they are immune to that virus from a previous exposure. Once a flu virus travels throughout the world, so many people are infected that the population becomes immune to it and the virus must change to another form to be able to infect people again. The virus mutates and changes its structure, so a new flu virus shows up. Most people do not have immunity to the new virus and it can spread rapidly through the population to cause a different flu epidemic. Today, flu epidemics usually start in China in the spring, summer and fall, and spread to the rest of the world throughout that year and the next. Scientists culture the new flu viruses in China in the spring and summer and make a vaccine from these viruses. This is why you have to take a different vaccine each year.

The Worst Epidemic
What was the world-wide epidemic that killed at least 25 million people in one year? If you say Ebola, AIDs or syphilis, you are wrong. It was the influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 that started near the end of World War I. It infected 500 million people, and may have killed as many as 100 million, about five percent of the world’s population at that time. Eighteen months after the disease appeared, this particular flu bug vanished and did not show up again until 39 years later in 1957. That particular strain will reappear sometime in the future.

Pneumonia is the Most Common Cause of Death with Flu
Dmitri Mendeleev died from pneumonia that he acquired while he had the flu. Many of the people who die during a flu epidemic actually die from a secondary bacterial infection in the lungs caused by common upper respiratory bacteria, usually Haemophillus Influenza. Without this secondary bacterial infection, many patients might have survived in 1918. Now doctors can cure bacterial infections with antibiotics. Antibiotics are the primary reason why the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics did not kill as many people (J Infect Dis, Oct 1, 2008;198(7):962–970).

Where is the Virus Between Epidemics? Birds to Pigs to Humans
In March, 1997, researchers at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC, found a jar with the lungs, packed in formaldehyde, of a 21 year old soldier who died of the flu in 1918. They analyzed the genetic material of the virus and showed that it was the type that is passed from birds to pigs and then to humans. A bird’s immune system tolerates the virus so the virus lives quietly in birds without a strong immune response from the bird. However, when the virus is transmitted to pigs, the pig immune system reacts violently to kill it, so, to survive in pigs, the virus changes to a different form that is so aggressive that it can kill the pig. When transmitted from pigs to humans, it can weaken a person’s immunity so much that a secondary bacterial infection can kill him. Both the Asian flu (1957) and the Hong Kong flu (1968), mutated from pig viruses and were very similar in structure to the flu virus of 1918, but were not as lethal.

Flu Can Still Kill
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 830 children were reported to have died from flu related complications between October 2004 and September 2012 (Pediatrics, published online Nov 4, 2013).
* Most had not gotten a flu vaccine
* Pneumonia was the most commonly reported complication
* 43 percent of the children who died from flu were otherwise healthy
* 33 percent had neurological disorders
* 12 percent had genetic or chromosomal disorders
* 35 percent of the children died before hospital admission
* 63 percent of the children died within seven days of the onset of flu symptoms.

I recommend that you get your flu shot every year, not because flu is likely to kill you, but because it can make you miserable. People with heart or lung diseases should be protected by immunization.

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev
January 27, 1834 - February 2, 1907

April 5th, 2015
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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