In the first Perspectives on Science seminar of the year, Vanessa Seifert (University of Athens) will give a talk on “The periodic table as law(s) of nature“.

The seminar takes place in hybrid format in person and online via Zoom from 14:15 to 15:45 on the 16th of January 2023. To join the seminar, please contact for the location or Zoom invitation.

Perspectives on Science is a weekly research seminar which brings together experts from science studies and philosophy of science. It is organized by TINT – Centre for Philosophy of Social Science at the University of Helsinki. More information about the seminar here.


The periodic table as law(s) of nature

Chemists often refer to the periodic table as the ‘periodic law’. However whether it actually refers to a law of nature is far from evident. To this end, I identify what kind of relationships are represented in the periodic table and claim that the table identifies various law-like regularities about (different groups of) chemical elements. Secondly, I present some key features typically assigned to laws and argue that they are satisfied by the periodic table. Thirdly, I consider two potential problems to the claim that the periodic table represents laws of nature. The first concerns the existence of alternative representations of the table. The second problem concerns the potential reducibility of the periodic table to quantum physics. All in all, whether the periodic table represents a law of nature is far from uncontroversial. Nevertheless, it is a novel issue within the metaphysics of science that could not only inform our understanding of laws, but also make us appreciate in a new way the enormous significance of the periodic table.

Author bio:

Vanessa Seifert currently works as a postdoctoral researcher in the project NoMoS at the University of Athens. She has worked as a researcher at the University of Bristol where she also completed her PhD in philosophy. She has a master’s in philosophy of science from the LSE and her undergraduate studies were in chemical engineering. She has published in several journals (incl. Philosophy of ScienceBritish Journal for Philosophy of Science, and European Journal for Philosophy of Science) around topics on reduction, scientific realism, models and idealisations. She is interested in exploring these topics primarily from the perspective of chemistry, and has written about them in popular science journals, such as The Conversation and Chemistry World