Newlands' Law of Octaves

In 1864, an English chemist John Alexander Newlands arranged the elements in the increasing order of their atomic masses (then called atomic weight). He observed that every eighth element had properties similar to the first element. Newlands called it the Law of Octaves.

Starting from lithium (Li), the eighth element is sodium (Na) and its properties are similar to those of the lithium. Similarly, beryllium (Be), magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca) show similar properties. Fluorine (F) and chlorine (Cl) are also similar chemically.

The merits of Newlands’ Law of Octaves classification are:

  1. Atomic mass was made the basis of classification.

  2. Periodicity of properties (the repetition of properties after a certain interval) was recognised for the first time.

The demerits of Newlands’ law of Octaves are:

  1. It was not applicable to elements of atomic masses higher than 40 u. Hence, all the 60 elements known at that time, could not be classified according to this criterion.

  2. With the discovery of noble gases, it was found that it was the ninth element which had the properties similar to the first one and not the eighth element. This resulted in the rejection of the very idea of octaves.

The basic idea of Newlands for using the atomic mass as the fundamental property for classification of elements was pursued further by two scientists Lother Meyer and D. Mendeleev. Their main achievement was that they both included almost all the known elements in their work. The classification proposed by Mendeleev was accepted more widely and is the basis of the modern classification.