Pol Sets Periodic Table Record

Professor Vilas Pol smiles at the crowd after his successful third attempt in the Henson Atrium in the Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering

One chemical engineering professor has decided to motivate his students with a little help from Guinness World Records.

Professor Vilas Pol attempted to set the base world record for fastest time to assemble a periodic table early Wednesday morning. Pol has been practicing for about three weeks, using tiles he and a postdoctoral helper created using material from Menards.

After two botched attempts because of mistakes in the table, Pol achieved the record on the third try in eight minutes and 36.25 seconds.

Michael Empric, the adjudicator for Guinness World Records, was happy to see the professor achieve his goal.

“There is a lot of pressure to do it in 10 minutes,” Empric said. “He did it, and that’s what really matters.”

The record attempt took a lot of time to set up.

“Guinness World Records allowed us to use a grid,” Pol said, gesturing to the three cardboard sheets leaning against a corner of his office. Hand-drawn lines crisscross the boards, which give the professor a standardized background onto which he can place the tiles, each labeled with the atomic symbol of each element.

The strict rules of GWR dictate exactly how Pol is allowed to attempt this record, from start to finish. The hand-drawn grid must be perfectly standardized, as small imperfections could contain hints as to where each element lies. Similarly, the tiles cannot be store-bought, as many commercially sold ones contain the atomic number of the element, or other subtle clues.

Though Pol is setting the base record, he is allowed only three attempts, with a maximum of 10 minutes per attempt.

What inspired Pol to spend the last few weeks practicing arranging the periodic table on a cardboard sheet in his free time?

His students, Pol said.

“You need to know a lot of chemical properties,” he said, referencing how important knowing the difference between types of solutions can be during labs.

Pol thought setting a world record would be an appropriate way to educate his students, as well as celebrate Purdue’s — and, coincidentally, the periodic table’s — 150th birthday.

“I was thinking this was exactly fitting to 1869,” he said.

Pol isn’t a stranger to world records. Every Christmas, he says his wife gifts him and his children the newest edition of the Guinness World Records book.

“She expects us to read,” Pol chuckled.

After spending time reading the books with his 6-year-old son and trying to convince him to break some kind of record, the professor realized he could take the chance to become a record-breaker himself.

After he set the record and was awarded a framed certificate from Guinness World Records, Pol approached the podium for a few final words.

“My students and postdocs have been with me the whole time,” Pol said.

Find coverage of the Boiler Gold Rush world-

record attempt at


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