Memorising the Periodic Table

By Michael Edmonds 30/12/2012

I’ve just been reading “Moonwalking with Einstein – the Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer and decided to put some of the techniques to use memorising the Periodic Table in such a way I can name the atomic number of every element (up to 100) or, vice versa, name the element when given only the atomic number.

The method I chose to do this is referred to as the Major memory system. It works by converting numbers into words, which can be used to create a memorable visual (and sometimes multisensory images).

To do this each number is correlated to a different phonetic sound or set of sounds:

0 = s, z

1 = t (or d)

2 = n

3 = m

4 = r

5 = l

6 = soft ch or sh

7 = hard c, k, g

8 = f

9 = p or b

A fuller explanation of this technique can be found here.

Using this system I have creating imagery for numbers 1 to 100 and have associated them with various images relating to the corresponding element. For example, Thorium is 92, in my memory I have created an image of the Norse god Thor riding a bus (b = 9, s = 2), while for Dysprosium (66) I have a mental image of two disprin doing the cha cha). It has probably taken me about 6 hours to establish this set of mental images but with a little more work, the memories should become quite indelible, and the Major system can also be used for other things such as memorising phone numbers.

For example,  if your boss’s number was 931 8451       BeaM Tea FiRe LiT   you can use these words to create a memorable image in your mind which you associate with your boss (e.g. your boss shooting a beam out of a container of tea to create a fire which someone points out is now lit – I know it sounds weird but with a bit of work these images stick.)

To make such images memorable, in your mind you make them vivid (colour, size etc) and unusual. Memorable images are also created by making them rude/sexual, though it then becomes embarassing to share them with others 😉


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