Princeton Day School’s periodic table

The periodic table is one of the most useful tools in science, and also so much more. When Mendeleev and then Moseley placed the elements in order first by atomic mass and then by their atomic numbers, they saw families and periods, and the universe began to fall into place. As science teachers, we hope that our students recognize the elegance of the structure and order of the table each day in our classrooms. In case our students are not suddenly and totally enthralled, we decided to create our own periodic table that would be unique to our school and community.

At Princeton Day School, an independent day school in Princeton, New Jersey, we have a beautiful science hallway painted in “chlorophyll” green with large photographs of sea life, animals and flowers. We had one wall left, all exposed brick, and we knew that was the place for our periodic table. Luckily, our standard-sized periodic tables needed to be replaced because they were old, worn and torn. We took these old tables and cut them into pieces that we were able to glue onto a BIG sheet of white paper that would become our table. We posted a sign-up sheet so that students could request elements. The only requirement was that they take a photograph that included them and their “element” in some creative way.

Two women standing in front of periodic table.

Fig 1. Jane Spencer (left) and Barbara Maloney with their unique periodic table.

Some students wanted the element that they had researched in chemistry class as a tenth grade project. One boy asked for zinc because it was his last name. A boy named Nick of course wanted nickel. A lacrosse player has a stick made of scandium.

A boy wearing his Yale sweatshirt became yttrium. The fun had only just begun. We made the Head of School helium, holding a floating blue balloon. Our receptionist, whom everybody loves, became radon — really nice! Our French teacher is now francium, and Maddie, a diver, is headed straight into the chlorine.


The students took their photos, made them 7 x 8.5 cm squares, and then emailed them to us as attachments. For weeks the photos came in, and each day we added a few more to the table. Each element photo was creative and unique. When all of the photos were in place we glued on the element symbols and proton numbers. In addition, black symbols were given for the elements that are solid at room temperature, while liquids had blue, and the gases, red.

When the table was finished, we pressed it between two plexi-glass sheets. It was framed in black wood and is now hanging proudly in our hallway. (See next page.) It captivates the members of our school community, and they excitedly gather to look for photographs of themselves, friends, faculty, staff and administration. The fun is in determining the association of the element with each smiling face. Our Princeton Day School periodic table is an engaging way for us to interact with science. What could be better?

Framed periodic table on wall.Periodic table with a picture of a school member in each element.