Welcome to what the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (better known as UNESCO) has designated the International Year of the Periodic Table of Elements, celebrating the 150th anniversary of this vital method for understanding chemistry.

The origins of the periodic table go back to Dmitri Mendeleev. Faced with the discovery of an ever-increasing number of elements to replace the four credited in Medieval times, it was clear there was a need to find a way to organize them.

Mendeleev’s structure was based on similarities in chemical behavior. He used it to predict the properties of then-unknown elements in the gaps, a tradition many chemists followed. Although the reasons for the table’s patterns were then unknown, the recognition of their existence helped lead the way to the explanation in the form or the behavior of elements’ valence electrons.

“Activities will highlight the contributions of chemistry and other basic sciences to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” UNESCO said. You can find out the calendar of events and how to get involved in some chemistry-loving fun right here.

Vital as it has been to the development of science, one may debate whether the Periodic Table really needs more attention, let alone an entire year. After all, it’s developing a status as a popular culture icon through songsnovelty versions and the use of its letters to spell out coded messages. People are also using its basic structure to draw attention to other things they want to celebrate.

On the other hand, there is no doubt Indigenous Languages need all the help they can get, so the United Nations General Assembly has also decided a year is long enough to celebrate more than one thing and has also made 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages, inviting UNESCO to promote their importance, too.

Not long ago thousands of languages were spoken around the world, but they are disappearing in a way that parallels the loss of endangered species. Indigenous tongues might not be subject to climate change or hunting, but popular languages affect them like invasive species. Since every language encodes a unique way of seeing the world, the loss is not just to the descendants of people who once spoke it, cut off from their ancestors’ knowledge, but to the rest of the world.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates 40 percent of the languages currently spoken around the world are in danger. A few places have achieved success in reviving threatened indigenous languages, mostly by teaching them in schools, but most lack either the will or the resources.

2019 also has an official United Nations designation as the International Year of Moderation, possibly the one thing more endangered than some languages. Those uninspired by any of these can look forward to 2024, which has already been designated the International Year of camelids.

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