A group pictured in UL looking at the periodic table
Dr Peter Davern, Course Director for the BSc in Environmental Science, UL Vice President Research Professor Norelee Kennedy and Professor Sean Arkins, Dean of Science and Engineering, looking at the interactive periodic table in UL Pictures: Brian Arthur
Monday, 8 May 2023

University of Limerick’s Chemical Sciences Department has launched a newly installed, large-scale, interactive periodic table display – the first of its kind in any third-level institution in Ireland.

The Periodic Table of the Elements is an organised way of arranging and presenting the different types of fundamental substances - known as ‘elements’ - that are used to make everything in our universe.

Usually printed on a page, science students are first introduced to the periodic table in secondary school. The table is used to predict a given elements chemical and physical behaviour depending on its position and has proved invaluable to scientists around the world.

The unique new display at UL however measures a huge 2.4 metres wide by 2 metres tall and contains an impressive array of pure element samples - solids, gases and liquids - plus related minerals, ores, artefacts and everyday items, all housed securely within individually lit, encased, 120mm-sided cubes.

It also contains five glass tubes blown in the shape of the chemical symbols of the first five noble gases and filled with the corresponding gas to demonstrate their distinctive colour and intensity when illuminated electronically.

An inbuilt interactive touchscreen displays many interesting facts about each element, as well as descriptions of the contents of each element’s cube and videos of experiments involving the elements.

The driving force behind the initiative was Dr Peter Davern, Course Director for the BSc in Environmental Science.

“I have been fascinated by the Periodic Table of the Elements for quite some time. Apart from the rich history of its origins back in the 1800s and its evolution since then, it really is a ‘go to’ resource for all scientists, and not just those involved in chemistry.

“It’s a truly elegant piece of construction that organises and arranges in a very deliberate way all of the known fundamental substances that are used to make everything in our Universe; it really is a thing of beauty,” Dr Davern added.

The display was custom designed, fabricated and installed with great care and attention to detail by a specialist company based in Madrid, Spain. A fundraiser helped to cover the cost of the display with donations to ‘adopt’ an element and have a short, personalised inscription laser-engraved on the inside wall of their adopted element’s cube.

In this way, many donors took the opportunity to use their inscriptions to acknowledge family members, classmates, friends, work colleagues or mentors, or to remember those who have passed on.

A variety of companies, organisations and institutions also came on board as corporate sponsors, and their logos are presented prominently on the display’s two side panels.

Recent visitors to the display were Chemistry Teacher Samantha Prior and her class from Coláiste Nano Nagle in Limerick.

“The girls really enjoyed visiting the interactive periodic table at the Department of Chemical Sciences. It was a great opportunity for them to put into practice what they learn in class about each of the elements and the periodic table. They couldn't believe their eyes; they kept asking if they were real. Seeing each of the elements in real life was a surreal experience for them,” explained Ms Prior.

The interactive periodic table display is located in the foyer of one of the Chemical Sciences Department’s undergraduate teaching laboratories on Floor 3 of Block A in the UL Main Building.