World’s Largest Periodic Table Involves Ties to IWU Past, Present
Mike Davis '98 gives a science demonstration in front of the Daley Center with its Periodic Table
September 11, 2006
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University alum Mike Davis is constructing the
World’s Largest Periodic Table of the Elements, to be displayed in the windows of
the Daley Center in Chicago from Sept. 22-29, in a project aimed at highlighting the
relevance of science in people’s everyday lives.
Read a story in the Chicago Tribune.
Davis orchestrated the project as part of the “Chicago Science Expedition: Two Weeks’
Worth of Wow,” which is a collaboration between the City of Chicago under Mayor Richard
Daley’s Office, the Chicago Public Schools and area colleges, universities and museums.
Davis, who earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from IWU in 1998, is assistant professor
of chemistry and chair of the Physical Sciences Department at Harold Washington College
The periodic table of the elements will be rendered eight stories tall in the windows
of the Daley Center, with each of the 111 elemental symbols represented on an 8-foot-square
“The iconic symbol of chemistry captures the imagination of almost anyone who looks
at it,” Davis said. “I wanted to turn this building and all of Chicago into a classroom
for a week.”
Community and corporate supporters of the project have been enlisted to sponsor individual
elements, providing their reasons for choosing a particular element as a means of
communicating its importance in our daily lives.
Illinois Wesleyan University is sponsoring the panels for bismuth and chromium. Bismuth
was chosen because of the groundbreaking work led by Associate Professor of Chemistry
Ram Mohan in the development of bismuth compounds as environmentally friendly catalysts.
Undergraduate students at IWU work with Mohan on research with bismuth in the field
known as green chemistry.
Chromium was chosen because of its historic significance at the University. A former
professor, Joseph C. Collins, was instrumental in developing a chromium reagent now
known as Collins’ reagent. Retired chemistry professors Wendell W. Hess and Forrest
Frank co-authored a key publication with Collins about this reagent in 1968.
When Chicago’s periodic table display is concluded, printed materials from the event
will be available as tools for educators, enabling students to make connections to
real-world applications of science.
Davis credits his education at Illinois Wesleyan for leading him to his present work,
which includes a traveling science show he has been performing for eight years to
promote the excitement and understanding of science.
“Professor Tim Rettich (who has taught at Illinois Wesleyan since 1981) did demonstrations
as part of his class, and he headed up the American Chemical Society group on campus,
with an emphasis on demonstration shows,” Davis said. “I became enthralled with that
One of Davis’ science demonstrations caught the attention of the mayor’s office and
prompted the invitation for him to join the Science Expedition planning committee.
Whether it involves shooting a potato out of a tube for schoolchildren or catching
the eyes and minds of thousands in the Windy City, Davis wants to show people they
shouldn’t be afraid of science, but can discover it for themselves.
Contact: Ann Aubry, (309) 556-3181