Eric Scerri


Eric R. Scerri is a chemist, writer and philosopher of science of Maltese origin.[2] He is a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the founder and editor-in-chief of Foundations of Chemistry, an international peer reviewed journal covering the history and philosophy of chemistry, and chemical education.[3][4]

Eric Scerri
Eric Scerri.tif
CitizenshipJoint US and UK
Alma materWalpole Grammar School, Westfield College, University of Cambridge, University of Southampton, King's College London
Scientific career
FieldsChemistry, logic, history and philosophy of science, chemical education
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Doctoral advisorHeinz Post[1]
InfluencesKarl Popper

He is a world authority on the history and philosophy of the periodic table and is the author and editor of several books in this and related fields.[5] Scerri was a participant in the 2014 PBS documentary film, The Mystery of Matter.

Scerri attended Walpole Grammar School in Ealing. He received his BSc from Westfield College (University of London), his Certificate in Postgraduate Study from the University of Cambridge, his MPhil from the University of Southampton, and his PhD from King's College London.[4]

Research interestsEdit

Scerri's research has mainly been in the history and philosophy of chemistry, in particular on the question of the extent to which chemistry reduces to quantum mechanics. He has specialized in the study of the periodic table of the elements, including its historical origins and its philosophical significance. More recent writings have included critiques of claims for the emergence of chemistry and the existence of downward causation.

In addition to historical and philosophical work Scerri has published numerous articles in the chemical education literature, including accounts of the electronic structures of transition metals and the occurrence of anomalous electronic configurations.

In A Tale of Seven Elements (2013) Scerri recounts the story of the discovery of the seven elements missing from the periodic table shortly after the turn of the 20th century, including the setbacks, misguided claims, and sometimes acrimonious priority debates and disputes.

In December 2015, Scerri was appointed by IUPAC as the chair of a project that will make a recommendation on the composition of group 3—whether it should be the elements Sc, Y, La and Ac; or Sc, Y, Lu and Lr. In January 2021, the project issued a provisional report in IUPAC's news magazine Chemistry International suggesting Sc, Y, Lu and Lr.[6]

Most recently (2016) he proposed a new evolutionary approach to the philosophy of science based on seven case studies of little known scientists such as John Nicholson, Anton Van den Broek and Edmund Stoner. Scerri has argued that these lesser known figures are just as significant as the heroic personalities in that they constitute the missing gaps in a gradual evolutionary and organic growth in the body of scientific knowledge. Although he rejects the occurrence of scientific revolutions as envisioned by Thomas Kuhn, Scerri very much supports Kuhn's notion that scientific progress is non-teleological and that there is no approach towards an external truth.

Second editions of Scerri's two most cited books were published in 2019 and 2020.



  • 2020, What is a Chemical Element? co-edited with E. Ghibaudi, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 9780190933784
  • 2020, The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 978-0190914363
  • 2019, The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 978-0198842323
  • 2018, Mendeleev to Oganesson: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on the Periodic Table, with co-editor G Restrepo, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 978-0190668532
  • 2016, A Tale of Seven Scientists, and a New Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 978-0190232993
  • 2016, Essays in the Philosophy of Chemistry, with co-editor Fisher G. Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 9780190494599[7]
  • 2015, Philosophy of Chemistry: Growth of a New Discipline, with co-editor McIntyre L. Springer, Dordrecht, Berlin, ISBN 978-94-017-9364-3
  • 2013, A tale of seven elements, Oxford University Press, Oxford, ISBN 9780195391312
  • 2013, 30-second elements: The 50 most significant elements, each explained in half a minute, as editor, Metro Books, New York, ISBN 9781435145214
  • 2011, The periodic table: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, ISBN 9780199582495
  • 2009, Selected papers on the periodic table, Imperial College Press, London, ISBN 9781848164253
  • 2008, Collected papers on philosophy of chemistry, Imperial College Press, London, ISBN 9781848161375
  • 2007, The periodic table: Its story and its significance, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 9780195305739
  • 2006, Philosophy of Chemistry: Synthesis of a New Discipline, with coauthors Baird D & McIntyre L, Springer, Dordrecht, ISBN 1402032560


  • 2022, Various forms of the periodic table including the left-step table, the regularization of atomic number triads and first member anomalies, Chem Texts, 8, 6 (2022).
  • 2021, Integrating the History and Philosophy of Science and restoring the centrality of the Periodic Table into a college general chemistry course, Chimica Nella Scuola, 4, 16-23.
  • 2021, Provisional report on Discussions on Group 3 of the Periodic Table, Chemistry International, January–March issue, 2021, 31-34.
  • 2021, 'Reassessing the Notion of a Kuhnian Revolution: What Happened in 20th C. Chemistry, A Commentary on Wray’s claim of the discovery of atomic number as a revolution in chemistry', Cambridge University Press.
  • 2021, 'How was Nicholson’s highly inconsistent atomic theory able to yield explanatory as well as predictive success?' in Contemporary Scientific Challenge from the History of Science, T.Lyons, P.Vickers, (eds.), Oxford University Press, New York.
  • 2021, 'The impact of twentieth century physics on the periodic table and some remaining questions in the twenty-first century', in Giunta, C.J.; Mainz, V. V.; Girolami, G. S. Eds. 150 Years of the Periodic Table - A Commemorative Symposium; Perspectives on the History of Chemistry; Springer: Heidelberg
  • 2020, 'On Chemical Natural Kinds', Journal for the General Philosophy of Science, 51, 427–445. doi:10.1007/s10838-020-09511-9
  • 2020, 'Recent attempts to improve the periodic table', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 378: 20190300.
  • 2020, 'The Periodic Table and the Turn to Practice', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science A, 79, 87-93.
  • 2019, 'Happy Sesquicentennial to the Periodic Table', Scientific American, January 22.
  • idem, 'Looking backwards and forwards at the development of the periodic table', Chemistry International, January–March, 16-20.
  • idem, 'Happy 150th Birthday to the Periodic Table', Chemistry A European Journal, 25, 7410–7415.
  • idem, 'Five ideas in chemical education that must die', Foundations of Chemistry, 21, 61–69. doi:10.1007/s10698-018-09327-y
  • idem, 'Can Quantum Ideas Explain Chemistry’s Greatest Icon?' Nature, 565, 557-558.
  • 2018, 'How Should the Periodic System be Regarded?', The Rutherford Journal, vol. 5
  • idem., 'What Elements Belong in Group 3?', with coauthor Parsons W, in E R Scerri & G Restrepo (eds), Mendeleev to Oganesson, Oxford University Press, New York.
  • 2017, 'The Gulf Between Chemistry and Philosophy of Chemistry, Then and Now', Structural Chemistry, 28, 1599-1605
  • idem., 'On the Madelung Rule', response to Marc Henry's “Super-Saturated Chemistry”, Inference Archived 2017-04-12 at the Wayback Machine, March.
  • idem., 'El descubrimiento de la tabla periódica como un caso de descubrimiento simultáneo', Epistemologia e Historia de la Ciencia (Argentina), 1, 2.
  • 2016, 'The Changing Views of a Philosopher of Chemistry on the Question of Reduction', in E R Scerri & G Fisher (eds), Essays in the Philosophy of Chemistry, Oxford University Press, New York
  • idem., 'Which Elements Belong to Group 3 of the Periodic Table', Chemistry International, Volume 38, Issue 2, Pages 22–23, March
  • 2014, ''The discovery of the periodic table as a case of simultaneous discovery', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, vol. 373, no. 2037
  • 2013, 'The trouble with the aufbau principle', Education in Chemistry, vol. 50, no. 6, pp. 24–26
  • 2012, 'Mendeleev's periodic table is finally completed and what to do about group 3?', Chemistry International, vol. 34, no. 4
  • 2010, 'Chemistry in its element – Lawrencium', Royal Society of Chemistry, viewed 30 December 2013
  • 2009, 'Periodic change', Chemistry World, March, pp. 46–49
  • 2007, 'The ambiguity of reduction', Hyle, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 67–81
  • idem., 'Trouble in the periodic table', Education in Chemistry, January, pp. 13–17
  • idem., 'Reduction and Emergence in Chemistry - Two Recent Approaches', "Philosophy of Science," 74, pp. 920–931
  • 2005, 'Some Aspects of the Metaphysics of Chemistry and the Nature of the Elements', Hyle, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 127–145
  • 2003, 'Hafnium', Chemical & Engineering News, vol. 81, no. 36, p. 138, doi:10.1021/cen-v081n036.p138
  • idem., 'Philosophy of Chemistry', Chemistry International, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 6–8
  • 2001, 'Prediction and the periodic table', with coauthor Worrall J, Studies in history and philosophy of science, 32, no. 3, pp. 407–452
  • idem., 'The Recently Claimed Observation of Atomic Orbitals and Some Related Philosophical Issues', Philosophy of Science, 68, (proceedings), pp. S76–S78
  • 1997, 'Has the Periodic Table Been Successfully Axiomatized?' Erkenntnis, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 229–243
  • idem., 'The Case for the Philosophy of Chemistry', with coauthor, McIntyre L, Synthese, vol. 111, pp. 213–232
  • 1994, 'Has Chemistry Been at Least Approximately Reduced to Quantum Mechanics ?', Philosophy of Science, PSA Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 160–170
  • 1991, 'Chemistry, spectroscopy, and the question of reduction', Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 68, no. 2, pp. 122–126
  • idem., 'The Electronic Configuration Model, Quantum Mechanics and Reduction', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 309–325
  • 1986, 'The Tao of Chemistry', Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 63, no. 2, pp. 106–107


  2. ^ Baykoucheva S 2010, 'Eric Scerri: A philosopher's view on the periodic table of the elements and its significance', Chemical Information Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 1, Spring, pp. 27–32
  3. ^ Rocke A 2012, 'A place at the periodic table', The Times Higher Education Supplement, 15 August
  4. ^ a b UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry 2013, 'Scerri, Eric R.', University of California. For current biographical information see the home page of Eric Scerri
  5. ^ Sella A 2013, 'An elementary history lesson', New Scientist, 13 August
  6. ^ Scerri, Eric (18 January 2021). "Provisional Report on Discussions on Group 3 of the Periodic Table". Chemistry International. 43 (1): 31–34. doi:10.1515/ci-2021-0115. S2CID 231694898.
  7. ^ Ball, Philip (2017). "The Philosopher's Quest". Distillations. 3 (3): 42–45. Retrieved June 21, 2018.

External linksEdit

  • Home page of Eric Scerri
  • Foundations of Chemistry
  • Career Advice for Scientists from Eric Scerri
  • Eric Scerri at IMDb
  • Interview with editor of Nature Chemistry
  • Mystery of Matter, 3-part Public Broadcast Television Series
  • Periodic Table - distinguished invited lecture on YouTube at Concordia University, Montreal (2012?)
  • The Mysteries of the Periodic Table- keynote to Kansas College Chemistry Teachers Conference on YouTube at University of Kansas, Lawrence (2012?)
  • Ten most influential chemists today (2020)