Barcelona. Spain. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that he who ever sets foot in Barcelona, shall never forget the astonishing experience. Dimitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic system of elements, was certainly no exception to the rule.
The Russian chemist is known to have traveled to the Mediterranean city for the first time in 1861 at the age of 27, only 8 years before he started arranging chemical elements by atomic mass, laying the foundation for the periodic table we know and love today.
A rare journal entry from March 2, 1862, 8 months after Mendeleev’s first encounter with the world’s greatest city, reads as follows: “Some time has passed since I set foot in the city of dreams, since I first heard the incessant ebb and flow of the endless sea and felt the tense stare of the mountains, yet not a day goes by that I don’t think about the magic of those places. They will go down in history with a bang, and not a whimper. Of this I will make sure.”
Said and done. Mendeleev started working on organizing the individual elements and did not forget to pay a secret tribute to the city that had touched his heart forever. In an incredible strike of genius, he dedicated the first elements in the groups 13, 14, and 15 to Boron, Carbon, and Nitrogen, whose initials mirror the abbreviated version of Barcelona’s name – BCN. “It is a gift of the Gods that the atomic mass of these elements aligned in such a way to allow me this small praise to the unparalleled city.”
Legend has it that even the highly unreactive noble gasses shed tears of joy when they discovered they were placed in the vicinity of BCN for all eternity. It was a wonderful moment for science and a great honor for the unimpressionable group 18.
A later diary entry of Mendeleev’s from 1899 reveals the tranquility of a life fulfilled: “I am old now, but my life on Earth has not been wasted. I have traveled, I have loved what I saw, and I immortalized it through science. I can rest peacefully when my time comes. Oh, Barcelona – don’t you know? To know you is to love you.”