Although it might seem an unlikely muse, the periodic table of elements has a long history of inspiring songs. Probably the earliest of these is the Tom Lehrer song ‘The Elements’, which was first heard in 1959. This song is sung to the tune of the ‘Major General’s Song’ from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and lists all of the elements known at that time. Although Lehrer was an academic, this song prioritised matching the meter of the original song and, therefore, it does not attempt to list any of the elements in the order in which they appear in the table. This means that, although it is an entertaining and well-loved song, it does not help students to remember the sequence of the elements within the periodic table of elements. Despite this, it has remained deeply popular and is referenced in a wide variety of popular culture and has undoubtedly boosted the popularity of the periodic table of elements itself. It is also probable that this provided at least some inspiration for the Periodic Table Song created subsequently by AsapSCIENCE.
AsapSCIENCE is a website founded by a pair of science graduates devoted to helping to make science more accessible to a wider range of the population than would typically become engaged with this type of subject. Although they cover the full range of scientific interest, one of their most popular videos remains the New Periodic Table Song (In Order). This song has been accessed by everyone from teachers to schoolchildren to to university lecturers to adults who have not thought about their high school chemistry lessons since they were teenagers.
AsapSCIENCE use videos, memes and songs to help scientific information to become more memorable,but they also have a strong interest in ensuring that the information they provide is scientifically valid and useful. It was this desire that led them to re-write the Elements Song as the New Periodic Table Song (In Order).
The Periodic Table Song created by AsapSCIENCE uses the tune to Can Can Music by Offenbach. This is exceedingly well known piece of music and is highly ‘catchy’. This was a deliberate decision by the writers of the Periodic Table Song, as this increased the chances of the song being memorable and, therefore, helping both children and adults to remember the periodic table elements in order.
Although this is the most common song with the elements listed in the order they are found in the periodic table, there have also been a number of other covers, using chart music to again help children to be motivated to learn the order of the elements. A very similar song has been created to the song Firework by Katy Perry. Each version of the song will appeal to different students and will help new generations to become comfortable with using the periodic table
Although there have been many attempts to make the periodic table of elements easy to memorise, especially through the use of this song, there remain questions as to the value of memorising this kind of information. In our always-connected world, it is very rare indeed that it is not possible to access the reference material and some teachers are now advocating for students learning more about how to research accurately and to use appropriate reference material to check their memory of facts, rather than relying on memorisation of large swathes of detailed information.
Although simple memorisation might not be the most valuable way of interacting the periodic table of elements, songs such as the New Periodic Table Song (In Order) do have an important role to play in helping children to learn about chemistry. They make the names of the elements familiar, meaning that students do not feel that they are being presented with unfamiliar concepts when attempting to use the table as a reference. This increases confidence and encourages children and adults alike to see science as interesting and playful, which is important for ensuring a future generation of scientists.