John Alexander Reina Newlands

John Alexander Reina Newlands (1837-1898) was an English chemist, who preceded Mendeleev in formulating the theory that all chemical elements had a periodicity. Several years later, his work helped create one of the most important elements in the world of chemistry: the periodic table.

His most important work was the development of the law of octaves; realized that there was a pattern in the atomic composition of most of the chemical elements present on Earth. This work was one of the first predecessors of the chemical law of periodicity of elements.

Newlands was the first scientist to organize elements according to their atomic weight . This chemist is considered one of the most important scientists in the history of England for having laid the foundations for the development of modern chemistry.


John Alexander Queen Newlands was born in London on November 26, 1837. His father was a Presbyterian pastor, and it was he who educated Newlands during his early life. His mother was of Italian descent.

In 1856 he enrolled in the Royal College of Chemistry, where he studied for a year under the tutelage of AW Hofmann, a German chemist who made important contributions to the field of organic chemistry.

After completing his studies, he became an assistant to the British chemist JT Way, who worked for the Royal Society of Agriculture. He worked with Way until 1864. However, he took a hiatus from his work as a scientist in 1860, when he volunteered for Garibaldi in his 1860 Campaign in Italy.

Professional life

After completing his work with Way in 1864, he began working individually as a chemical analyst. As his income was relatively limited, he supplemented himself by working as a chemistry teacher.

During his life as an analyst he developed a particular interest in the chemical composition of sugar. Thanks to this, he obtained a position as chief chemist in a refinery that belonged to James Duncan. Together they developed a new system to purify sugar and created a number of innovative methods to improve the process.

After the refinery went bankrupt due to foreign competition, Newlands became an independent analyst again, this time alongside his brother. Together they worked to reevaluate a previously established system of growing and refining sugar.

After developing the law of octaves – his most important work – other chemists of the time ridiculed his hypothesis and discarded it. However, after Mendeleev received recognition for discovering the periodic table, Newlands was commemorated with the Davy Medal in 1887.


He died at his home in London in 1898, leaving his wife and two children. His brother took it upon himself to continue his chemical business.

Contributions from John Alexander Reina Newlands

Newlands’ first contributions were two essays on the composition of organic compounds . First he suggested a new nomenclature, and the second trial talked about recommending the use of a table to be able to demonstrate the different comparisons and similarities between items.

His first contributions were harmed by the lack of knowledge that existed at the time about the structure and valence of the elements. However, his early works are quite important, as they show his thinking about the systematization of chemistry.

His first contribution regarding the weight of each element at the atomic level grouped his ideas together with those of many other authors to explain the observation of two different phenomena.

The first phenomenon was the existence of triads. Triads were groupings of three different chemical elements in a single group. Each of these elements has similar properties and a significantly similar atomic weight.

Furthermore, he discovered that the atomic weight of analogous elements was always a number, which was a multiple of eight.

First tables

Originally, Newlands used the concepts of atomic weight and equivalence without a particular distinction in meaning. Therefore, in his first official work, he used the atomic values ​​that had always been believed to be correct up to that time.

However, in 1864 he used for the first time new values ​​based on Williamson’s studies, which were correct.

The first time he used the new numerical values ​​was to develop a table in which the 61 chemical elements known so far were included. He also developed a second table, in which 31 items were grouped into 10 categories that contained one or more triads.

However, the Newlands tables were quite incomplete. This is attributed to the lack of knowledge of the chemical composition of elements, which by then had been recently discovered. In addition, certain absences suggested that other chemical elements were still lacking to be discovered.

After developing these tables, Newlands said that if the elements were grouped according to their atomic weight, it could be determined that elements with similar numbers belong to the same groups.

The octaves of Newlands

Using the Newlands tables, the scientist determined that each element in each group differed from its neighboring element by 7 numbers. That is, there was a seven-number difference in atomic weight between the elements. This made the eighth item in each group a repeat of the previous item.

In simple words, when elements are arranged according to their atomic weight, there is a pattern that repeats every eight elements. However, the Newlands table had some errors, which are attributed to the fact that several elements had not been discovered.

When Newlands first proposed this law, the scientific community did not approve and the Royal College of Chemistry refused to publish his work, as it was purely theoretical. However, when he presented the law of octaves for the first time, he included all the chemical elements discovered for the time.

The fact that the basis for his analysis was so rigid did not help his cause. However, after Mendeleev published his own chart in 1969, Newlands asked for recognition for his work years ago, and was awarded the Davy Medal in 1987.

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