Who is Julius Lothar Meyer? Google Doodle Honors Periodic Table Pioneer

Julius Lothar Meyer is celebrated in today's Google Doodle, on what would have been the scientist's 190th birthday. The German chemist, professor and author was one of two scientists to independently discover the periodic law of chemical elements and pioneer the earliest periodic tables.

Meyer was born into a medical family in Varel, modern-day Germany, on August 19, 1830. Meyer initially studied medicine but then focused on physiological chemistry, earning his doctorate in 1858 and becoming a science teacher a year later.

In 1864, Meyer published the textbook Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (Modern Chemical Theory), which included a system for organizing 28 elements based on atomic weight; a precursor to the modern periodic table.

However, at the same time, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev was independently developing similar ideas of his own. Meyer and Mendeleev both studied at Heidelberg University under Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff, so they would likely have known each other. However, they were not aware of each other's independent studies into the elements and the eventual development of the periodic table.

Julius Lothar Meyer Google Doodle
Julius Lothar Meyer, one of the scientists who pioneered the periodic table of elements, is celebrated in today's Google Doodle on what would have been his 190th birthday. Google Doodle

Meyer designed a comprehensive periodic table in 1868 but before it was published, Mendeleev released his own paper that placed all the known elements in one table. Mendeleev's discovery predicted the properties of unknown elements and his studies were honored by the scientific community, which named element 101 Mendelevium after him, years after his death.

However, Meyer's subsequent 1870 paper was groundbreaking in its own right—its graphical demonstration of the relationship between atomic volume and atomic weight provided strong evidence for the periodic law describing cyclical patterns among the elements.

In 1895, a few months after Meyer died, the Scientific American published an article by the chemist M. M. Pattison Muir that discussed the controversy between Meyer's and Mendeleev's independent discoveries: "The clear enunciation, and the application in detail, of the most far-reaching generalization that has been made in chemistry since the work of Dalton, must, undoubtedly, be credited to that great chemist Mendeleev [...]

"Nevertheless, a perusal of the controversy between Mendeleev and Meyer shows, I think, that Meyer arrived at the fundamental conception of the periodic law independently of Mendeleev."

Meyer's graph, or the Lothar Meyer arrangement, can be seen behind the scientist in today's Google Doodle. Google says: "Happy birthday, Julius Lothar Meyer, and thank you for braving the elements for the sake of scientific knowledge!"