chemical symbol


chemical symbol
Notation of one or two letters derived from the scientific names of the chemical elements (e.g., S for sulfur, Cl for chlorine, Zn for zinc).

Some hark back to Latin names: Au (aurum) for gold, Pb (plumbum) for lead. Others are named for people or places (e.g. einsteinium, Es, for Einstein). The present symbols express the system set out by the atomic theory of matter. John Dalton first used symbols to designate single atoms of elements, not indefinite amounts, and Jons Jacob Berzelius gave many of the current names. Chemical formulas of compounds are written as combinations of the elements' symbols, with numbers indicating their atomic proportions, using various conventions for ordering and grouping. Thus, sodium chloride is written as NaCl and sulfuric acid as H2SO4.

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      short notation derived from the scientific name of a chemical element—e.g., S for sulfur and Si for silicon. Sometimes the symbol is derived from the Latin name—e.g., Au for aurum, gold, and Na for natrium, sodium. The present chemical symbols express the systematizing of chemistry by the atomic theory of matter. The English chemist John Dalton (Dalton, John), who followed the alchemists in representing the elements pictorially, made the important advance of letting his symbols designate single atoms of elements, not indefinite amounts.

      The Scottish chemist Thomas Thomson was the first to use letters as chemical symbols in the article “Mineralogy” in the Supplement (1801) to the 3rd edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. The Swedish scientist J.J. Berzelius (Berzelius, Jöns Jacob) proposed in 1813 that chemical symbols be based on the Latin names of the elements, a proposal generally adopted by the mid-19th century.

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Universalium. 2010.

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