Introduction: 3D Periodic Table

Picture of 3D Periodic Table

The first periodic table was developed in 1862 by a French geologist called Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois. He plotted the elements on a cylinder with a circumference of 16 units, and noted the resulting helix placed elements with similar properties in line with each other. But his idea - which he called the "Telluric Spiral", because the element tellurium was near the middle - never caught on, perhaps because it was published in a geology journal unread by chemists, and because de Chancourtois failed to include the diagram and described the helix as a square circle triangle. Mendeleev got all the glory, and it is his 1869 version (dramatically updated, but still recognizable) that nearly everyone uses today. This instructable documents my efforts to reimagine a 3D periodic table of the elements, using modern making methods. It's based on the structure of a chiral nanotube, and is made from a 3D printed lattice, laser cut acrylic, a lazy susan bearing, 118 sample vials and a cylindrical lamp.

Step 1: Design

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The design process went through many iterations and down various dead ends that didn't work for structural or aesthetic reasons. Eventually, I decided to just 3D print the framework. Making the file for printing was pretty easy: I generated an output file using TubeASP, hid all the atoms I didn't need in Mercury, and exported it for 3D printing. I cleaned up the file using Fusion360. All steps are laid out in much more detail in my instructable "How to make accurate 3D molecular models".

However... when I printed it, glued it up and assembled it, I realized that the gaps between frame and acrylic panels were aesthetically, well, revolting. Most people didn't notice it, but it bugged me a LOT. The final design was basically the same, but with hexagonal punches taken out of the back of each cell to hold the acrylic panels. There are some slight irregularities with the wall thicknesses, but I liked it much better than the previous design and it was much stronger and easier to assemble. Thanks to the talented Scott Daigle (current innovator-in-residence @Pier9) for helping me out on the CAD when I got stuck. The STL file for the updated model is attached.

Step 2: Print

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I did this print in 2 parts, as it didn't otherwise fit in the build volume. I did a test print at small scale first and checked that I'd got the layout correct by inserting a paper cylinder and writing all the elements in.

At the scale I printed it - each hexagon is about 2" across - the two prints took 31 and 49 hours on the Fortus Stratasys printer. I'm incredibly fortunate to have access to the Pier 9 3D printing lab, because I imagine doing this print commercially would have been outrageously expensive. It uses about 50 cubic inches of model material and 60 of support, which is close to 4 lb (2 kg) of filament.

Step 3: Assemble

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I glued the layers together using E6000 and clothes pegs and rubber bands for fixturing. I added the glue to both parts and left to dry overnight.

Step 4: Laser Cut Hexagons

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I cut 1/8" transparent acrylic of different colors into etched hexagons with holes cut in them. The etching indicated the atomic number, element symbol, and name. I was initially going to include atomic weight and electronic configuration, but it made it distractingly busy. The hole was for a sample vial: the diameter was chosen so that the lid would trap the vial (i.e. the diameter is slightly less than the actual vial, but greater than the thread. Illustrator files for the nine different colors I used are attached. The colors are not critical, I just picked a layout I liked the look of, and that used all 9 colors of transparent acrylic that I could buy. Use whatever colors you like. Even 4 would work fine: one for each of the s, p, d and f blocks. Here's how I broke mine down.

Clear: Hydrogen (1)
Red: Noble gases, Group 18 (7)
Orange: Alkali metals, rest of Group 1 (6)
Yellow: Alkaline earth metals, Group 2 (6)
Bronze: Lanthanides and lutetium (Lu is a Group 3 element, but is considered a lanthanide) (15)
Grey: Actinides and lawrencium (Lw is a Group 3 element, but is considered an actinide) (15)
Green: Transition metals (not including Group 12) (34)
Pale blue: Poor metals (Group 12, and the metals and metalloids of the p block) (18)
Blue: Non-metals, not including the noble gases (15)

Step 5: Install Hexagons

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Press-fit all of the hexagons. Triple-check you have them in the right position and oriented correctly. Glue using a little E6000 around edges of all hexagons. I considered using acrylic cement, but even the gel-like ones were too runny for my liking.

Step 6: Make Rotating Stand

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I made a stand using 1/4" clear acrylic, 6 thin washers and a 12" lazy susan bearing. Because the base of the periodic table varies in height due to its helical nature, you need to make uprights to ensure it is vertical. I also used clear acrylic for the uprights. The cut file I used is attached. I aligned everything exactly before gluing, and made marks where each upright needed to be placed. I used E6000 to glue the acrylic ring to the lazy susan bearing, by filling each of the holes that accommodated the feet. I popped washers around the feet to prevent the acrylic from rubbing on the stationary ring.

Step 7: Add Sample Vials

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Put a little of each element in a vial, put through the hole in the acrylic hexagon, and screw on the lid from behind. Apply glue to the threads first if you don't want anyone to be able to access the sample. Including yourself!

At this stage I just have 20 samples; I will fill up more when I return home.

I used glow-in-the-dark PLA to print small radioactive symbols for the radioactive elements (STL file attached). I used a Dremel Idea Builder (great little machine). I used 5-8 symbols per vial.

Step 8: Illuminate

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I added a cylindrical lamp to the inside of the lazy susan bearing. I was going to make one but in the end I found one just like I wanted to make at the Home Depot. I used a long skinny LED bulb to diffuse the light as much as possible.

Step 9: Display

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Switch it on and put it on display. It also looks good without the lamp if backlit.

Interested in the periodic table? Two great books I recommend: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, and The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean.


wangheng2000 (author)2017-03-04

Amazing design!!I want to make a such thing,but it's a little hard to get a 3Dprinter in China.So I want to know if you can sell me all the parts of this project,I'll pay for it .Thanks

makendo (author)wangheng20002017-03-06

Thanks. Try a service (there are many online). I don't sell these.

AndrewM404 (author)2016-12-22

Hello this is an awesome project, but you're missing the Yellow: Alkaline earth metals acrylic hexagon files, would you please be able to upload it?

makendo (author)AndrewM4042016-12-23

Thanks. Those are in fact all the files I have; I think I must have saved over the Group 2 ones (I was pretty seriously sleep-deprived at the time, I'm frankly surprised only one set is missing). I no longer have access to Illustrator as I have left Pier 9 so can't remake it. However - they're easy to edit - just redo the text for Group 18, referring to any online PT for the correct atomic numbers, symbols and names.

AndrewM404 (author)makendo2016-12-23

No worries! Thats alright I know some friends that'll be able to make the edits thanks for replying back and again great work!

makendo (author)AndrewM4042017-01-04

Great. If you could provide the file you thus create, that would be awesome - I will add it to the others.

capn0 (author)2016-12-11

Looks great. Is there a way for you to share the two STL files you used to make the skeleton of the lamp? Like you, the 3D printer I have access too doesn't have that large of a print volume.

makendo (author)capn02016-12-11

Yes; now uploaded. Both files are pretty large. Good luck! If you do make one, please post a picture.

capn0 (author)makendo2016-12-11

Fantastic! Thank you very much.

FJM50 (author)2016-12-04

So fantastic. This has inspired me to hand knit an updated 3D model of the periodic table. I made one in 1983 which still sits in my college chemistry lab. Thank you for inspiring me to do something with all my yarn bits and make a budget periodic table for the grandkids.

makendo (author)FJM502016-12-10

Nice! Imagine a hand-knitted 3D periodic table Christmas sweater! I'd wear that :)

RaeR8 (author)2016-12-06

That's not a table. That's a lamp. I wanna learn how to make a periodic *table*


Wolfbane221 (author)2016-11-30

Really cool! I'd suspend some of the precious metals in oil or something so they are more visible in the vials? think gold flakes etc. what are you going to do for the unobtainable elements??

makendo (author)Wolfbane2212016-12-04

Often the reactive metals are put in oil to prevent oxidation. Lithium has such low density it floats but the rest will just sink

Dean8919 (author)2016-12-04

Wow, I've wanted to do something creative with the periodic table for a while and this is really impressive and inspiring.

Thanks for sharing it!

SherylinRM (author)2016-12-03

Wow, I like this thanks.

Voted for you :)

super_me (author)2016-12-03

cool, did you put in plutonium,uranium,francium?

barancanaydin (author)2016-11-30

So creative. Perfect

Jaapio (author)2016-11-30

A really cool design.

mdheath (author)2016-11-30

This is amazing.

Cherzer (author)2016-11-28

Fun! Can you actually get samples of everything for the vials?

gizmologist (author)Cherzer2016-11-29

It's possible to get samples of about 80 of the elements on a reasonable budget. The manmade ones are unobtainable, for a variety of reasons. You can actually buy Uranium and Radium on eBay!

makendo (author)gizmologist2016-11-29

Gizmologist is correct. For the other 40, I am currently printing out a whole lot of glow-in-the-dark radioactive symbols.

gizmologist (author)makendo2016-11-30

Check out

for beautiful photos of the elements; for the synthetics where no photo exists, there is a photo of the discoverer. For some of the others, there is a photo of a use for that element. This is the route I took. I also didn't bother with anything above 100.

john henry (author)makendo2016-11-29

for the unobtainable ones how about making something that looks like the element but isn't radioactive, unstable or expensive. like a clay replica if its a solid. So it's safe to have anywhere and looks as real as possible.
very cool project btw. I was thinking of doing something similar with cubes for quite some time now.

BillyG26 (author)makendo2016-11-29

How about a QR tag to a WIKI page for that element?

Cherzer (author)makendo2016-11-29

That is a great solution!

Cherzer (author)gizmologist2016-11-29

Thanks for the reply! Wouldn't some of them only be in a gas state? I admit that I only ever got C's in chemistry :)

makendo (author)Cherzer2016-11-29

Yes - all the noble gases and N, O, F and Cl. I'll seal these in tiny tubes which will go inside the vials. Likewise for the reactive metals.

annieblocks (author)2016-11-30

I'm blown away by this. How did you get the elements? I am also new to making and design, and just... this is the ideal. Thank you.

annieblocks (author)2016-11-30

This is amazing.

magiceye (author)2016-11-29

An elegant model of the elements,nature has given us the hexagon and the helix two beautiful shapes.What a desirable 3d model display from a 2d diagram.

BlakS1 (author)2016-11-29

Discoveries of this magnitude don't happen overnight. The same way we can say that Wright brothers (y.1903) followed Otto Lilienthal of Germany (yy.1871--1888- 1896) or colonel Alexander Mozhaysky (y.1876) of Russia, but they got all glory.

shadowfox85 (author)2016-11-29

How much would you sell one for?

makendo (author)shadowfox852016-11-29

I'm not planning to make another and this one is not for sale. All the plans are there though - you could order all the parts and assemble it yourself for cost.

shadowfox85 (author)makendo2016-11-29

Ok, thank you :)

agis68 (author)2016-11-29

brilliant...voted, I will try to make it without the vial samples (due to minimize the cost)

whiteybd53 (author)2016-11-29

This is amazing! This would make a great gift for my son.

I am new to this, so forgive the novice question. Are the plans for the element cutouts (.ai files) sufficient to provide to a laser cutter? - Are adobe illustrator files all you entered into your cutter to produce the element cutouts? Are they easily scaled down? Thanks!

makendo (author)whiteybd532016-11-29

Yes. Yes. Yes. You're welcome.

Note though that if you scale it down you should also delete the circles for the vials (since they're not needed). It would be fun to see a smaller version - please post a picture if you end up making one

dmills3 (author)2016-11-29

"(i.e. the diameter is slightly less than the actual vial, but greater than the thread."

I think you mean 'the diameter is slightly larger than the actual vial, but smaller than the thread'?

makendo (author)dmills32016-11-29

No, I meant what I said. The vial does not fit through the hole, but the threads do. The acrylic panel is trapped between the lid and the body of the vial.

Breygon (author)2016-11-29

fantastic design.

Farkleman (author)2016-11-29

Beautiful work! (although I think the vials detract a bit from the beauty of it.) Wish I had your skills and equipment to make one for my kid. Would make an awesome learning tool.

momsquared (author)2016-11-29

This is such a beautiful design and executed brilliantly. I think you should consider figuring out a way to make this commercially. It would make such a meaningful heirloom type gift. Your commitment to make this perfect is admirable! Really great job!

makendo (author)momsquared2016-11-29

Thanks for yr kind words

Replicator (author)2016-11-29


Kalle Klæp (author)2016-11-29


watchmeflyy (author)2016-11-29


WannaDuino (author)2016-11-29

WannaDuino!!! Likes iT!!!

But why used black tops on the vails, ?

If you use transparent ones, you get very nice lightning patterns.

Now ithe black ones, are holding out the light almost 100%


makendo (author)WannaDuino2016-11-29

Good suggestion, and I looked for some for exactly this reason, but no luck. If you have a source, please share

About This Instructable




Bio: Analog maker dabbling in digital manufacture
More by makendo:Laser-powered Light SaberScott McIndoe Pier 9 ResidencySolar analemma chandelier
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