The Elements versus The Periodic Table

Elements versus PSE

Two iPhone Apps. Theodore Gray's 'The Elements' (left) or Merck's PSE-HD (right). Both apps are shown displaying basic information for Technetium.

Did I mention I had a new iPhone? Well obviously the first kind of app I downloaded was a periodic table of the elements – it just gave me a comfortable feeling knowing that I had that information close at hand. And what could be better than a Periodic Table app? Well, obviously two Periodic Table apps! And so here I compare the free Merck(TM) PSE HD app with the £6.99 app called ‘The Elements’.

Elements Technetium

'The Elements' page for Technetium. Touching the image allows you to rotate it and the text scrolls for an engaging description of the element.

The Elements is an app written with love by Theodore Gray, co-founder of Wolfram Research who make Mathematica. It is a simple app to understand and navigate. It has an introductory essay, a picture of the periodic table with animated pictures of each element, and splendid animation of the ‘The Elements’ Song by Tom Lehrer. Tapping on an element brings up a screen with a rotatable picture of the element, and an engagingly written essay by the author. I did find a tiny error on the page about Helium, but Theodore said he would fix that in the next release. Each essay links the physical properties and the history of the element and has links to the pages for other relevant elements (this makes it easy to browse and ‘get to know’ the elements).

The main attraction of this app is its accessibility – it is simple to use and a pleasure to interact with – one of those apps you will show your friends to make them think that your insanely expensive mobile phone might not have been a complete waste of money. On the down side, it is a bit limited and expensive as apps go. It does have links to Wolfram Alpha’s database on the elements, which is nice, but then you are back to browsing web pages.

Link to UK App Store

The Merck PSE (HD) has more data built-in to the app than The Elements, and it has many different ways to display and interact with the data. The main screen is a picture of the periodic table, and touching an element brings up a panel with basic information. Touching the panel causes it to flip and on its reverse are different categories of information shown in considerable detail, from the history and discovery of the element, to technical data. At this point the app is just ‘really useful’. But there is more: touching the Merck ‘M’ on the home screen brings up a new way of viewing the data where one can view how a property varies across the periodic table.

PSE Melting Temperature

Turning the control increases the temperature, and the periodic table graphically shows which elements are solid, liquid, and gas at that temperature.

For example, selecting ‘state at room temperature’ allows one to view the periodic table colour-coded as to the state (solid, liquid or gas) of the elements. A rotary control allows one to change the temperature and see visually which parts of the table melt and then vaporise in which temperature range: it is delightful. Similarly, selecting electronegativity shows how this property varies across the periodic table. Not sure what electronegativity is? Then select the glossary tab to find out.

PSE Electronegativity

The periodic table graphic shows how the electronegativity of a substance varies with position in the table.

My favourite is the discovery tab which allows you to scroll back through time and see when each element was discovered – and the app displays an image of the discoverer. And there is lots more too.

PSE Discovery

The faces of the people who discovered each element.

This app is data rich and carefully thought out. Having it on your phone gives you that comfortable feeling, knowing that even when your network connection is down, you will still have access to melting point data for the elements

Link to UK Apple App Store and  Android marketplace

Which is best? For people who enjoy tech lore, or if you’re studying Physics or Chemistry, then the Merck PSE app – for free – is a must have . For people who have £6.99 to spare – and are perhaps curious about science – but not professionally involved, ‘The Elements’ is a real pleasure to own.


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