Our shared history with the periodic table
15 January 2019
2019 is the UN International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, marking 150 years since the table was first published by Mendeleev in 1869, and recognising the importance of how chemistry promotes sustainable development and provides solutions to global challenges.
Johnson Matthey and the Periodic Table
Founded on January 1st 1817, 52 years before the Periodic Table was published, Johnson Matthey was a company already noted for its exceptional scientific expertise. Our early work was in the field of metallurgy, particularly of the precious metals. This expertise was recognised in 1846, when Percival Norton Johnson was elected to the Royal Society, with his certificate of admission being signed by Michael Faraday.
In 1867, at the Paris Exhibition, a committee of delegates from many countries strongly recommended the universal adoption of metric weights and measures. This led to the French Government sponsoring an International Metric Commission in 1869, the same year Mendeleev revealed his breakthrough in a formal presentation to the Russian Chemical Society, titled The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements. Johnson Matthey was chosen to make the international standard metre and kilogramme, using a platinum iridium alloy. This standard will remain in force until May this year, when a new standard will be adopted. In George Matthey’s election to the Royal Society in 1879, his work with the International Metric Commission was commended.
Over the years, the periodic table has evolved, and so have we. From our early days in precious metals, Johnson Matthey has gone on to work with a huge range of elements, across the periodic table and our businesses, while the table has grown from more than 60 known elements to 118 today.
Our commitment to improving health started when we developed the anticancer drug carboplatin, and we now provide a range of pharmaceutical and medical device products and services.
Elsewhere, cleaning the air has been a cause close to our hearts and in 1989, we produced our 100 millionth automotive catalyst. Since then, we have continuously improved the catalysts we produce, resulting in even better air quality and our technology now prevents 40 tonnes of pollutants entering the air every minute.
And, through our acquisition of Synetix, (Imperial Chemical Industries’ catalyst division) in the 2000s, we strengthened our position with base metals chemistry and were able to offer the chemical processing industry more efficient and effective ways of using the world’s oil and gas reserves.
Throughout the years, our scientists have used the Periodic Table to understand the inter-relationships of elements, their chemical and physical properties and chemical reactions. All hugely important to any scientist, today and in the future.